Superintendents say proposed school grading system gets F

The proposed new Ohio school district grading scale isn’t getting enthusiastic support by some local superintendents.

“I don’t understand what our state is trying to do to our public schools,” Elyria City Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda said. “What do they want from us?”

It's a good question.Let's take a look at what the state intends to do. The table below analyzes how schools using the current rating system will be allocated new grades. For example, only 94 of 1452 schools currently rated as "excellent" will receive an "A" grade, 4 of them currently rated "Excellent", will receive a "D", which is sure to come as a shock, though perhaps not as shocking as the 2 schools currently rated "Effective" which will receive an "F".

Overall Grade
2011 Performance Rating A B C D F Grand Total
Academic Emergency - - - 40 119 159
Academic Watch - - - 145 58 203
Continuous Improvement - - 72 322 44 438
Effective - 182 464 193 2 841
Excellent 94 1227 127 4 - 1452
Excellent with Distinction 130 186 - - - 316
Grand Total 224 1595 663 704 223 3409

You can view the entire list of simulated school ratings, here (xls).

How does this happen? Well, the state has decided to change not only the grading system, because apparently parents aren't smart enough to differentiate between "excellent" and "Academic Emergency", a move described as "Insulting" by one suprintendent, but to also change how grades are calculated. The new formulation will rely heavily upon test scores.

  • Percentage of State Indicators Met
  • Performance Index (based on test scores)
  • Achievement and Graduation Gap (based on test scores)
  • Value-Added (based on test scores)

As we have talked about at length before, there's a significant element of socioeconomic factors that affect these results.

According to an Excel regression analysis of ODE data on the new system at the district level, demographics (poverty, income, property valuation, teacher salaries, educational attainment levels, etc.) produce an R-squared value of .48 for the new system vs. an R-squared of .45 for the previous system. The closer to 1 (or -1), the stronger the correlation.

Under this new system is it likely that at least 70% of schools will see their ratings drop.

“What system is this,” he said. “What’s the point?”

With the increased focus on school district ratings, he stated it has been some what of an uphill battle to keep teachers and staff focused.

By having to keep the teachers motivated and pumped up, in lieu of increased pressure by the state to perform on standardized test, the district is finding it hard.

He simply tells his staff to look to their students as their motivation.

“They are doing all of this (winning awards and honing their skills and talents) because of their education,” he said. “It’s taking a lot of work to keep them (teachers and staff) pumped up.

Motivating students and staff isn't the only problem. It may also have a deleterious effect on house prices, at a time when prices are already depressed

Obviously no one is arguing that the ONLY reason that people pay 214% more to live in New Albany is because of its schools, but let’s face it, it’s a huge selling point. You’ve seen the billboards advertising otherwise uninteresting, treeless tract houses in recently-converted farmland trumpeting access to “Dublin schools!” That will no longer mean much.

Under the new plan, parents seeking “the best schools” for their kids in Central Ohio would no longer look at Dublin, Upper Arlington or New Albany. In fact, the only top-rated district remaining in the entire region is Granville, 40 miles away in Licking County. Better get ready for a long commute, moms and dads! The same challenges face Cuyahoga county parents. Where home buyers previously had seven “top-rated” districts to choose from, now they only have two. Sorry North Olmsted, sorry Mayfield.

The obvious concern with this plan is the impact it will have on levies. Despite recent success in passing crucial levies, voters might be less inclined to continue to support schools they see as having been downgraded, or not rated "Excellent". When the state is rolling back its financial support for public schools, forcing them to rely more and more upon local sources of funding, this seems counter to that, in effect helping to cut off all sources of money leaving only drastic cuts as a means to balance already broken budgets.