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State's Report Cards For Schools Have New Look

The Ohio Department of Education says its website has been overwhelmed with visitors seeking access to new school district report cards since their release on Thursday. State Schools Superintendent Richard Ross says the department is working to make adjustments to the site. The new report card system gives districts grades of "A" through "F", replacing the one which used terms like "Excellent" and "Excellent with Distinction." Ross says the new system gives parents a better idea of how their district is performing. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

It’s all an effort for transparency and simplification. That’s what Ohio Schools Superintendent Dick Ross has to say about the state’s new “A” through “F” report card system which launched today.

The old system which used terms like “Excellent with Distinction” and “Continuous Improvement” … that’s out. Ross says the new scheme evaluates different education measures using the well-known letter grades.

Ross: “I know our moms and dads know what an ‘A’ is—I know they know what an ‘F’ is. So why change? I think the whole idea is to make sure that we are able to convey the message in the most transparent way and I think the ‘A’ through ‘F’ report grade card does that.”

The new report cards are split into six different components which include Achievement, Progress, Graduation Rates, Gap Closing, K-3 Literacy and Prepared for Success. And each of those components breaks down into different measures.

Take the “Progress” component for example. While the state evaluates the progress of all students of a particular district, it also measures the progress of just gifted students, students with disabilities and students in the lowest 20% of Achievement.

As Ross explains… this provides a better, more comprehensive look at how a school is performing. He says the previous terms were not doing a great job at giving a clear picture of how every individual school was performing.

Ross: “As I drilled down on the old report card—I think there was an ‘Excellent with Distinction’ school district I think there was a school that had three ‘F’s’ a couple of ‘D’s’ and a ‘C.’ I mean if you just look at the picture of the district you would never see or assume that that was the case.”

Other education groups in the state are now doing their own assessment on the new grades to find out what they can learn from the data. Damon Asbury, with the Ohio School Board Association, says they’re looking into how the priority groups… such as low-income and rural districts… fared this year.

Asbury: “We’re doing an analysis of performance by those categories to see if there are any patterns or trends that jump out at us.”

But technical difficulties are creating a speed bump for those groups that want to analyze the data. The Ohio Department of Education created a website that contained all of the grades from every district, but the site crashed when it went live Thursday.

The Ohio Education Association, which represents teachers in the state, did not want to comment on the new system until the site was up-and-running and they could form their own assessment of the numbers.

This is only the beginning for the state’s new system. In the next two years the Department of Education plans to add new literacy measures to the list of scores. And by the 2015 school year, every district will receive an overall grade score.

But the department warns that people should not average out today’s scores because that will not give them an accurate overall grade for their district. State officials say they will continue their outreach efforts to help explain the new system to local communities.