Western Local Schools Report Card Breakdown
I’m not one to discount the value of measuring students and schools against a standard as a means of evaluating where we are in comparison to districts in our area and across the state. However, the current report card format, especially in its one-page summary, serves only to give schools a grade relative to the very high bar set by the Ohio Department of Education. I am a part of several educator groups statewide and none, including many state board members and legislators, believe that the current report card format is a good measure of what our kids can do or the value that our schools are truly adding to our communities. The “grades” are only a small part of the picture. There are six components to the report card.
Achievement reflects the number of indicators met (it takes 80 percent passage to get the point). It doesn’t at all reflect growth or take into account demographic factors that impact a student’s ability to be successful on standardized tests such as percentage of special education students, homeless students, victims of the opioid epidemic, extreme poverty, or other trauma-induced factors.
Graduation Rate is a pretty simple measure at the surface. However, that grade doesn’t reflect the fact that any special education student who is at the CTC who elects to stay in school an additional year counts against the graduation rate. Additionally, if a student moves into the district (often as a 17- or 18-year-old) and enrolls but doesn’t complete school or transfers that student is considered a dropout. If he comes to school for one day and then disappears and moves back to where he came from but doesn’t re-enroll in another school he is a dropout for us although we had absolutely nothing to do with his education whatsoever. This is a constant issue. The number of students who start here in 9th grade and graduate is always above 90 percent. The graduation rate measure lags one year behind so this year’s score reflects students who graduated the previous year not the current year like the other standards.
The Progress measure is probably the fairest standard in most opinions because it is the only one that measures what a school does for the kids who have spent an academic year there. It measures student growth against that individual student’s past testing history and determines growth (or lack thereof) based on how that student performs compared to how that student was expected to perform.
The Gap Closing standard measures how certain groups of students perform against other groups and against “regular” students.
The K-3 Literacy component measures how successful the pre-K through 3rd grade program is. This measure is basically an evaluation of how many students leave a grade as successful readers compared to how many started that grade as successful readers. It takes the number of students who started the year on a Reading Improvement Monitoring Plan (RIMP) and compares it to how many were off of the Reading Improvement Monitoring Plan (RIMP) by the end of that year.
The Prepared for Success component is the most controversial part because it claims to measure whether or not a school’s students are prepared for all future opportunities. What is really measured is how prepared for college students are because it heavily focuses on ACT and SAT scores, honors diplomas, Advanced Placement courses, and College Credit Plus courses. This is a very misleading measure and doesn’t reflect the ability be a success at all. It unfairly defines success and creates a situation in which students are pushed to feel like a college degree defines success when we all know that isn’t the case at all. Over 80 percent of districts state-wide received a D or F on this component. Only six districts received an A and they happen to be the wealthiest districts in the state.
In my opinion, the report card is a good snapshot of many aspects of what is going on in schools related to student success on standardized tests. Each of the six components are derived 100 percent from test scores and nothing else. Nothing about citizenship, character, service, or being well-rounded is measured. Effort and dedication have no bearing. If a student isn’t a good test-taker or isn’t planning to attend college (75 percent of my students won’t attend college but many will be very successful in their chosen fields) then he and his school are both labeled as failures, according to the local report card.
The report card is simply an overview and doesn’t truly reflect the great things going on in all of our county schools. It’s also very superficial and can be very misleading. My district received a D as our overall grade on the report card. However, our Progress grade was a B. District-wide we received an A on overall progress. Simply put, that means that our schools, all grades combined, grew our students far more than the state expected us or even asked us to. We are expected to give each student one year of growth in one academic year. An A means we far exceeded that. That means our teachers took the kids who walked in the door on day one and gave them more than one year of academic growth during that year. Our reward from the ODE is an overall D. All we can control is what we do with kids when we get them. I believe that our teachers should be commended because they went above and beyond their duty. From an achievement standpoint we didn’t do very well because the report card only measures if the 80 percent goal was met. However, it doesn’t show that in some areas we scored above all other county schools and most area schools. We were above the state average in 8th math, and in five counties only two schools outscored us in 8th science and that was by one percentage point and we were 13 percent above the state average. Those are just two of the areas in which we did well. There were many areas district-wide in which we made great gains.
Here is the best example of the report card being misleading and the argument against letter grades. The ODE did a very quiet press release that gave each school building in the state a numerical grade. The numbers came from combining all of the individual parts of the report card and weighting them. When looking at the high schools in a five-county area (Pike, Scioto, Ross, Highland, and Brown) only eight high schools out of 30 had on overall score higher than Western High School. However, we only met one indicator on the report card and we got an F in Prepared for Success. The only schools that ranked higher were Piketon (congratulations!!), Manchester, Leesburg Fairfield, Peebles, Whiteoak, Valley, South Webster, and Wheelersburg. We beat everyone else in five counties but that will never show up on the report card. Our primary and elementary schools made great progress in many areas and are part of several initiatives and are working with ODE directly on a couple of things and they can’t say enough good things. The Ohio Department of Education asks us to give other districts advice on how to do some of the things we are “failing at” according to their own standards. Our primary principal gives webinars and professional development sessions all over Ohio.
We are the most impoverished district in this state yet we have turned out hugely successful graduates who have contributed greatly to our community, county, state, and country. In a recent, completely anonymous survey of 257 students 97.7 percent of students stated that they want to do well in school and 86 percent said that they care about their school. 91 percent believe it’s important to help other people and 96 percent can stand up for themselves. 92 percent of the kids raised in a community that is in the middle of the opioid epidemic believe it’s important to NOT do drugs. This doesn’t sound like a district that is failing kids and isn’t preparing kids for success. I believe we have work to do in many areas, but I certainly don’t believe that our report card reflects the type of kids, support staff, teachers, and administrators that we have in this district.