File-Ohio Distance Learning

Graciela Leahy, 13, an eighth-grader at Ohio's Columbus Gifted Academy, works on her computer in her bedroom, in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 23, 2021, to begin a stretch of nearly six straight hours at her desk.

(The Center Square) – A national education think tank believes a bill in the Ohio Legislature that would change how school evaluations are presented to parents and communities would make those school report cards useless and move education back centuries.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute said Ohio House Bill 200 goes in the wrong direction, allows schools to hide performance with confusing ratings and it eliminates key measures.

“While the current model can be improved, an ill-advised piece of House legislation goes in the wrong direction. It would gut the state report card – rendering it utterly meaningless – and cloak what’s happening in local schools,” Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute, wrote in a paper published last week. “In short, the proposal would take Ohio back to the dark ages when student outcomes didn’t matter and results could be swept under the rug.”

Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, introduced the new plan earlier this month, saying it simplifies school report cards and makes it easier for students, teachers, parents and school officials to understand.

The legislation eliminates the current A through F letter-grade system that schools receive, replacing it with school designations such as "significantly exceeds expectations,” “exceeds expectations.” “meets expectations,” “significantly approaching expectations,” “moderately approaching expectations,” or “in need of support.”

Churchill called those labels vague and said they would mean little to Ohio parents and communities.

“What exactly does it mean to ‘exceed expectations’ or ‘make progress’ toward them? Whose expectations are they anyways? Worse yet, some of the labels will be downright misleading,” Churchill wrote. “There will be schools deemed ‘making substantial progress toward expectations’ – equivalent to a D (or C?) rating – whose performances declines in a certain report card component. Lastly, the ‘in need of support’ label is a euphemism that doesn’t raise red flags for parents or communities.”

The proposal came from the findings and suggestions of the Ohio Report Card Study Committee, created during last year’s General Assembly. The bill includes 58 co-sponsors and waits for a House committee assignment.

The bill also requires the State Board of Education to adopt rules to establish performance criteria for performance ratings. It eliminates the overall grade of buildings and school districts, only rating each component.

The new grading system received wide support from school groups, including school boards and administrators.

“This legislation is an important step in improving Ohio’s school report card so that it is a fairer, accurate reflection of the great work being done in Ohio’s schools,” said David Axner, executive director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

The Fordham Institute, however, said it eliminates the user-friendly letter grade, drops the prepared for success part of the report card, softens a school’s accountability for disadvantaged students and weakens accountability for early literacy.

“Report cards are a balancing act. They must be fair to schools, offering accurate and evenhanded assessment of academic performance. But they also must be fair to students – who deserve a report card system that challenges schools to meet their needs – and to parents and citizens who deserve clear and honest information about school quality,” Churchill wrote. “Ultimately, HB 200 veers too far in trying to meet the demands of school systems, which have an interest in a report card that churns out crowd-pleasing results. Such a system might avoid controversy, but it’s also a one-sided picture that ignores the interests of students, families and taxpayers.”

Regional Editor

An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.