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State School Report Cards Have Mixed Grades

Ohio’s newly-released school report cards rank the Columbus City Schools among the lowest performing districts in the region, despite an improvement in elementary school literacy. The report cards show Ohio students are doing better across all subjects, and across different economic and racial groups.  But there are mixed grades for public school districts, and mostly bad ones for charter schools. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler has more. 

The report cards assign letter grades to districts and charter schools for the previous school year in 16 categories based on data from tests, attendance, graduation and other information. Just under 4% of the state’s 608 traditional public school districts got As for how their students did on 26 state tests. More than 80% got Fs. State schools superintendent Paolo DeMaria suggests checking other categories as well.

“’Indicators met’ really represents a very high bar, because you have to have consistently very high performance across a large number of the indicators. What I tell people to do is, look at the performance index. That’s a lot more granular, a lot more nuanced.”

Most districts got Cs in that performance index, which measures individual student achievement. But DeMaria says the statewide performance index is up two and a half points, the third largest increase the state has ever measured.

“What I take away from this report card is the momentum, right? We’ve set higher standards. We know it takes time for a system to calibrate to those higher standards. And the kind of direction and momentum that we’re seeing is exactly what we want to see. Many of those Cs next year will be Bs and we’ll keep making progress.”

As for the state’s 276 charter schools – many of which were listed as “not rated” – more than 90% got Fs in indicators met. And for the student performance index, most got either Ds or Fs. Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director at the Fordham Institute, a pro-charter school group. He cautions against making an apples-to-apples comparison between traditional public schools and charters.

“Charter schools and urban district schools – where most of the charters are located – do fare pretty poorly in terms of the proficiency based metrics that Ohio uses. A lot of those low grades is largely a reflection of the achievement gap, where lower income students tend to lag behind their more affluent peers.”

And that’s the conclusion of the expert who runs the numbers for the traditional public schools.

“The data is as stark and as clear as can be – that the districts at the top whose kids do the best on these standardized tests are the districts with the lowest poverty.”

Howard Fleeter with the Ohio Education Policy Institute says the new report cards back up what he’s seen over the last 20 years.

“Two years of the new tests with several years of the old tests, several years of the tests before the old tests – we’re still seeing it’s the achievement gap between low-income students and high-income students is the most persistent problem that we’ve seen in public education.”

Another area of concern on the state report cards is the “Prepared for Success” grade, which measures how many students got good score on college entrance exams, earned honors diplomas or secured industry recognized credentials. All the charters that were rated in that category got Ds or Fs. And two thirds of traditional public school districts got those bottom two grades, which is a big increase from last year. The Department of Education says those numbers reflect a transition to higher standards.

But there was some good news with graduation. More than half of the public school districts got As, meaning at least 93% of their students got diplomas in four years. But the bad news is that Ohio’s eight biggest school districts are graduating fewer than 79% of their students, which earned all of them Fs in that category.


Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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