OSBA SB316 testimony and policy position

The Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Ohio Association of School Business Officials submitted the following testimony on its position regarding the SB316 - the education MBR bill.

Good morning, Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Manning, and Ranking Member Sawyer, I am Damon Asbury, Director of Legislative Services for the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA). I am joined today by Thomas Ash, Director of Governmental Relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) and Barbara Shaner, Associate Executive Director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO). They will each be presenting portions of the testimony.

Thank you for allowing us to speak to the provisions in Senate Bill (SB) 316. While we are interested parties in this legislation, there are numerous items that we support, and others that we believe deserve some additional consideration. We begin with a discussion of the proposed school district report card changes.

School District Report Cards
SB 316 would make substantial changes to Ohio’s current report card system. We support the use of letter grades (A through F) to substitute for the current designations for two reasons. First, they are more transparent. Second, letter grades are currently used by the media to identify a school or district’s grade.

Having said that, we urge you to amend SB 316 to delay the implementation of the proposed new system and to give the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rule making authority to determine the details of this new system. The legislation provides for the new report card system to be implemented for the reporting for the current school year, which means they would appear on the August 2012 report card. This would effectively “change the rules in the middle of the game.”

Extending the implementation at least one year would allow school districts to prepare for the change and to educate parents and the community about the transition to letter grades. Also, we believe there is still much to consider when putting such a plan in place. Describing the details in law would not allow for the kind of flexibility necessary to make the new system work. We support flexibility even after the new system is implemented in order to see the best results from the change.

We know we must accept increased accountability in exchange for more flexibility at the federal level, and we understand how the new report card system fits with the increased rigor already planned. However, district and school report cards themselves are not increased accountability. They are improved transparency. The increased accountability begins in two years with the implementation of new content standards and more challenging assessment instruments.

While we understand that Ohio’s plan must also comply with the requirements necessary for approval of Ohio’s waiver request under the “No Child Left Behind” law, we believe that implementation of the new report cards should correspond with the timeline for increased accountability. We believe that this will not jeopardize the waiver application with the U.S. Department of Education.

The other change in the way Ohio would evaluate school districts as proposed in SB 316 would establish four elements: performance indicators; performance index; attainment of “adequate yearly progress;” and value-added student growth. A letter grade for each would appear on the school and district report card as well as an overall grade using these four grades averaged together for a composite score.

While we do support the letter grades, we feel it appropriate to point out that, as proposed, each of the four components of the composite report card grade would be valued equally in the overall grade. Meeting each of Ohio’s performance indicators would count no more than adequate yearly progress.

A delay in the implementation of the new report card system would allow more study and analysis of the best way to present the information to parents and the community. Perhaps it would make more sense not to calculate a composite letter grade but show the letter grade for each of the components on the report card. Certainly, that would increase transparency over the current practice. Moreover, it would allow district residents to decide which factor or factors they consider to be of greatest importance. Again, implementation through administrative rule makes sense as the new system evolves.

On a somewhat related matter, with the budget’s emphasis on workforce development, we support the SB 316 proposal that a district report card be developed for joint vocational school districts. It should be tailored to the unique mission of these schools by focusing on both academics and successful completion of training. Because of the limited number of such districts in Ohio (only fifty), we also support SB 316’s removal of joint vocational school districts from any type of ranking system.

Third Grade Reading Guarantee
We support the concept underlying the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Reading is fundamental to the future academic success of every child. Virtually every content area requires the ability to read with fluency and comprehension. The earlier children become literate the better able they will be to succeed in other content areas.

The proposed language in SB 316 recognizes that simply providing a guarantee is not sufficient in and of itself. Instead, it recognizes that children in the preceding grades, K-2, must be provided with appropriate instruction, be assessed with appropriate measures to gauge their progress, and offered intervention and remediation whenever assessment shows that they are not keeping pace with their learning. Retention is not the desired outcome. The focus on intervention with struggling learners will help achieve the desired goal of successful readers by the end of third grade.

The proposal calls for intense remediation services during the summer months for those students who are reading below grade level at the end of second grade. We support appropriate remediation, but believe there must be flexibility to address the needs of each child in a way that is best. The bill is too prescriptive and discretion should be left to local education providers. We urge you to remove these specifics from the bill.

While we support the concept of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, retention alone can lead to other academic difficulties as well, including a greater likelihood of dropping out of school in the future. Therefore, we believe that approaches other than retention deserve additional study.

We would be remiss if we did not question where the funds would come from to support the additional assessment, intervention and remediation required. Re-prioritizing current spending can only go so far. Simply put, successfully addressing this challenge and goal will require additional funds and reading strategies.

Finally, we also believe that the call for additional investment in pre-school and early childhood education goes hand in hand with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. The best research would indicate that early Childhood investments gain the best return. Consideration should be given to increased and well-placed investment in early childhood programs as a way to alleviate the need for third grade reading intervention.

In summary, however, we support the concept of the enhanced Third Grade Reading Guarantee with the understanding that assessment and intervention are necessary components that will require that additional resources be available.

I will now turn the testimony over to Tom Ash to continue the discussion.

Teacher Evaluations and Re-testing
We support the provisions of SB 316 that would allow school district leaders to accept from teachers rated as “accomplished” a project demonstrating the teacher’s continued growth and practice, in lieu of a second formal observation as required in House Bill(HB) 153, the biennial budget bill.

However, we are generally concerned with overall elements of the performance-based evaluation of teachers now required. They involve what we are calling the three C’s for schools: control, cost, and capacity.

We are concerned about allowing districts to hire third party evaluators who are not regular employees of the district. While the department of education has designed a training program that strives for consistency among all evaluators, there is also the internal consistency within the school district itself. An outside evaluator would not necessarily report to any administrator within the district but rather to his or her supervisor in an outside agency. Care must be taken before deciding on a process for third party evaluations.

We also must advocate for a system that does not dramatically increase costs. It is not just the training costs. Two observations for most teachers each year could lead to the unintended consequence of hiring additional administrators in order to accomplish this.

Instead, we would suggest that the deadline for the non-renewal of teacher contracts be extended from April 30 to June 1. This would allow an additional month to complete the required observations. We ask that you amend the bill to reflect this change.

We would also note that SB 316 clarifies that the evaluation for assistant principals, like that for principals, will be based on principles comparable to the teacher evaluation policy. While we believe that the recently developed Ohio Principal Evaluation System (OPES) follows best practices and will produce a significantly more data-driven rating, OPES is not based on observation but rather on results. If the goal here is to make the principal evaluation “observation based”, it should be noted that observation is not part of the current training model, and districts will not be able to implement such a system by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.

We would recommend instead that the evaluation for principals be based on the Ohio Principal Evaluation System or similar best practices model.

We support the changes in the required retesting of teachers contained in SB 316. The current requirement is for the retesting of all core subject teachers in buildings ranked in the lowest 10% of all schools, as measured by the performance index. The requirement has nothing to do with that teacher’s actual performance or the results achieved with their students. This could actually discourage highly effective teachers from transferring to low performing schools.

For that reason, we support the retesting of teachers in the core subjects if they have been rated as ineffective for two of the three most recent school years as the bill suggests.

School Facilities
We also support the three proposals made on behalf of the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC). Presently, participation in the Exceptional Needs Program is capped at the 75th percentile or lower on the equity list (which is an indication of local property wealth). We support removing this cap to allow all districts to participate. After all, even wealthy districts can have facilities that do not contribute adequately to student learning. In addition, the actual state support would still be based on the computed state share. Wealthier districts would still receive a smaller share of the total cost than those districts with less property wealth.

We support using a portion of the funds currently reserved for districts that have been unable to raise their local share to fund those districts that have passed their local contribution, secured their required one-half mill maintenance levy, and are now awaiting their turn on the equity list.

We would not recommend allocating a majority of the reserved funds for this purpose. However, using a portion of these funds would allow the district to complete the total facility plan, allow for more employment in the construction industry, and accelerate the availability of 21st century learning facilities for those children. Besides, construction costs will only rise. It is not unthinkable that the final total costs could exceed the original estimates if there is a significant delay between the original local approval and the final awarding of the state dollars to complete the district’s facility plan.

We also support the reduction in the minimum value of a segmented project from 4% to 2%. The net effect would be to reduce the bond issue and the necessary millage to retire the debt.

It might also be appropriate to reduce the required one-half mill for maintenance to reflect the fact that a segmented project is not the entire facilities plan. Presently, for a segmented project, the entire one-half mill (or its equivalent) for maintenance must be passed and then collected for a period of 23 years. It would seem fairer to require the equivalent one-half mill on a prorated basis determined by dividing the value of the segmented project by the total cost of the complete facilities plan. This provision is not currently contained in SB 316 and we ask that you include it in the final version of the bill.

I will now pass the testimony along to Barbara Shaner.

Expenditure Standards
Another provision in HB 153 was the establishment of an Expenditure Ranking process. School districts are to be ranked among their peers related to their classroom and non-classroom expenditures. To complete the Expenditure Rankings, ODE and the State Board of Education were directed to establish standards by which the rankings would be determined. This process was put on a fast track with implementation of the new standards and the Expenditure Rankings beginning with the current school year -- once again “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

While we support the development of uniform expenditure standards in order for districts to make comparisons with other districts and to gauge their own effectiveness, we do not support the implementation of standards and rankings after-the-fact. School districts should be given the opportunity to review the standards, align their accounting practices with the standards, and understand the reporting process before the new standards become effective.

SB 316 provides for the delay of the implementation of the new standards for one year. However, it is our understanding that the bill does not delay the requirement for the Expenditure Rankings themselves. The bill would also direct ODE and the State Board to utilize existing federal reporting standards for purposes of setting Ohio’s new standards.

ODE has worked with our organizations to develop expenditure standards that would align Ohio with the U.S. reporting standards. We do not believe it is necessary to delay their adoption for a full year. In fact, it makes sense for school districts to understand the new standards prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year (July 1, 2012).

Having said that, SB 316 should be amended to delay the implementation of the school district Expenditure Rankings for at least one year. School districts should have the benefit of the new reporting standards for a full year before a comparison ranking “list” is reported by ODE and made public.

In addition, it should be noted that our organizations do not support the “ranking” of districts. Ranking is a much different concept than “rating.” An appropriate rating system, which we believe SB 316 addresses, allows for transparency and for the public to see how districts are performing. A ranking system pits districts against districts with no meaningful result. There will likely be many districts within close proximity to one another on the ranking list yet the numbering system requires that there will always be a number 1, and a number 75 and a number 400.

This number will provide little value to the communities where these schools are located. Additionally, there will always be a bottom 5% or 10%. If the goal is to improve the efficiency of all school districts, the bottom 5% today could show great improvement but never get out of the bottom 5%. The ranking system is punitive and unnecessary.

We urge you to remove the ranking system from law and retain the uniform expenditure reporting standards as contained in SB 316.

Academic Rankings
As we understand another provision in the proposed legislation, the current exclusion of dropout recovery community schools from the “ranking” of community school sponsors would be eliminated. As a result, the academic performance index scores of dropout recovery community schools would be included in the calculation of the sponsor “rankings.”

We would also note that current law continues to exclude the performance of dropout recovery community schools only until January 1, 2013 or, sooner if standards were established by the General Assembly.

Our organizations have the same concerns about the academic “ranking” of schools. However, if rankings are going to continue for traditional public school districts and community schools, dropout recovery schools should also be subject to the rankings.

BMI Repeal and Line-item Veto
In HB 153, the General Assembly chose to repeal an unfunded mandate that required school districts to conduct Body Mass Index (BMI) screenings. Governor Kasich then attempted to line-item veto the legislature’s repeal, but instead vetoed language that required ODE to track the BMI program. SB 316 contains language acknowledging Governor Kasich’s veto and would officially reinstate language the General Assembly tried to repeal in HB 153.

While districts could still request a waiver, the waiver process alone is time consuming and unnecessary. We believe requiring school districts to conduct BMI screenings is an unfunded mandate and that the legislature’s decision to repeal the requirement should stand. Attached to this testimony is a recent article from the Columbus Dispatch regarding the BMI screenings and feedback from parents.

This concludes our testimony on SB 316. We are happy to address your questions