Annual school report cards play an important role in healthy, accountable K–12 education systems. They offer parents objective information about the quality of public schools in their communities, gauge whether all students—including those from disadvantaged backgrounds—are being well educated, and assist state and local leaders in gauging school systems’ strengths and weaknesses and identifying schools that need more help.
First implemented in 1998, Ohio’s report card has evolved over the years. The most recent makeover began in 2012–13, when the state transitioned away from confusing labels such as “continuous improvement” and measures of “adequate yearly progress” to more transparent letter grades. The updated framework also added new measures designed to track progress in early literacy and post-secondary readiness.
Although the current iteration has notable strengths, it’s also stirred controversy. Believing the report card (and the policies tied to it) to be overly punitive, school officials have repeatedly criticized the system as unfair. Here at Fordham, while strongly supporting a robust report card, we have also flagged a fewand offered suggestions on how to fix them. Several other education groups have also offered ideas—some solid, others questionable—for report card changes.
With the debate still unsettled, legislators in each chamber are again wrestling with proposals to revise the system. A few weeks ago, House lawmakers unveiled legislation, HB 200, that would overhaul the report card—but unfortunately in all the Click here for a more detailed overview.). Now, a Senate proposal has entered the mix ( . This legislation was informed by a coalition of education groups, including Fordham. If enacted, the bill would make responsible, commonsense improvements to the state report card. Below are the highlights. (
- Ensures a rating system that is transparent and understandable to the public. Through a forthcoming amendment, SB 145 would shift Ohio from letter grades to a five-star rating system. This approach will continue to recognize excellence—schools that earn five stars—while providing warning signs to families considering a one-star school. While an A–F system is arguably the most widely understood reporting mechanism, a star system is still one that parents can easily grasp, and it continues to effectively differentiate school performance.
- Reduces the number of possible ratings from fifteen to seven. In the current system, districts and schools can receive up to fifteen total ratings—an overall grade plus fourteen component grades. Some of these ratings are unnecessarily duplicative. For instance, there are three graduation-based ratings. SB 145 wisely culls the number of ratings that appear on Ohio’s report card. This helps to focus attention on the most critical dimensions of performance, while continuing to offer the public a picture of a school’s strengths and weaknesses. The legislation also maintains Ohio’s longstanding practice of assigning an overall rating. Akin to a student’s final GPA, this composite rating provides an important, user-friendly summary of performance.
- Makes important refinements to report card components. Ohio’s current report card is built on a solid foundation of student achievement, attainment, and growth data. However, as the state has incorporated new measures over the years, the report card has become unwieldy and complicated. The report card has also been criticized as being too closely tied to pupil demographics. SB 145 addresses these concerns by making structural changes that streamline the report card and create measures that are fairer to all schools. The following recaps the major changes by component. (
for more on how each one currently works.)
- Achievement: Eliminates the “indicators met” dimension based on proficiency rates and instead puts the focus squarely on the performance index, which is a weighted measure that provides extra credit when students achieve at higher levels. A measure of achievement remains important to see where students stand academically at a point in time, but due to well-documented achievement gaps, high-poverty schools tend to struggle on this component. The elimination of indicators met, however, means that they won’t receive duplicative ratings. Proficiency rates would still be reported, but wouldn’t be used in the rating system.
- Progress: Places the full emphasis on district- or school-wide results by eliminating three subgroup value-added ratings. Two of the subgroups’ growth data—those for gifted children and students with disabilities—are moved into the “equity” component. Data from past years consistently that growth results are only loosely correlated with school demographics.
- Graduation: Eliminates the separate “subcomponent” ratings for four- and five-year graduation rates and creates a single composite rating based on both data points.
- Equity (presently Gap Closing): Simplifies this complicated component by creating a set of indicators based on whether various subgroups meet achievement, growth, and graduation targets. Importantly, the legislation would ensure that both achievement and growth matter—rather than awarding credit when performance is satisfactory in one or the other, as is current practice.
- Prepared for Success: Eliminates the current two-tiered structure and creates a more straightforward framework that awards credit when students meet one of nine readiness indicators. The updated component would also add new career-oriented indicators and take into account improvements over time in schools’ readiness rates, which should help high-performing, high-poverty high schools do better on this measure.
- Early Literacy: Adds an achievement-based dimension to the component by making a school’s third grade reading proficiency rate count for half of the early literacy rating. The other half of would be determined by a slightly modified version of the current measure, which gauges the annual progress of struggling readers in grades K–3.
Over the past two decades, Ohio has made great strides in developing a report card that shines a light on multiple dimensions of student and school success. Though the current system has significant strengths, even winning national, several of its features have bred frustration, especially among educators. The changes proposed in SB 145 would alleviate some of these tensions. More critically, the report card envisioned in this bill would continue to encourage Ohio schools to challenge all students—no matter their background—to reach their full potential. In that respect, the Senate approach represents report card reform, done right.