Annual school report cards play an important role in healthy, accountable K–12 education systems.
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.
If Ohio is going to continue making progress toward Attainment Goal 2025, a larger percentage of Ohio’s K–12 graduates must enroll in postsecondary programs and earn a degree or credential. That’s why in 2018 the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) introduced the 3 to Get Ready campaign. This initiative was designed to encourage students to complete three crucial steps in the postsecondary preparation process: completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), applying to colleges, and selecting an institution.
Each aspect of the campaign has its own set of initiatives. For example, the Ohio FAFSA Completion Initiative focuses on increasing the number of high school seniors who fill out an application. That’s easier said than done, since it’s notoriously complex (though recent changes have made it simpler). But FAFSA is the only way for students to access federal financial aid and grant programs, and many colleges and universities use it to determine eligibility for their own institution-specific grants. Although FAFSA is the key to making college more affordable for many high school seniors, thousands of families don’t take advantage of the opportunity. According to an informational one-pager by ODHE, 39 percent of Ohio high school seniors didn’t complete the application in 2019. As a result, a whopping $87 million in federal financial aid went unused.
But it’s not just about money. The same document notes that FAFSA completion is strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment. Around 90 percent of high school seniors who apply for federal aid attend college directly after high school, compared to just 55 percent of students who don’t. Of course, it’s likely that students who didn’t complete the application weren’t planning to attend college. But it’s also possible that completing FAFSA—and getting a clearer understanding of how much financial assistance is available—could encourage students who previously hadn’t considered college to apply and enroll.
The upshot? FAFSA is a critical step in increasing postsecondary enrollment. That’s likely why, in his recently proposed budget, Governor DeWine included two proposals aimed at increasing the percentage of students who complete the application.
The first would make FAFSA a requirement for graduation. That seems draconian at first glance, but there are exceptions. Although students would need to provide evidence that they completed and submitted the application to get a diploma, they would be exempt if their parent or guardian submits a written letter to the district or school stating that the student won’t be completing FAFSA. Students would also be exempt if their district or school could provide a record describing circumstances that made it impossible or impracticable for the student to submit the application. In short, students have to complete the FAFSA to graduate unless their parents—or, in some cases, their school—say otherwise.
The second proposal centers on tracking and publicizing FAFSA completion data. Ohio already has a FAFSA Data Service, providing high school counselors with access to information that can help students complete the application. Participation is voluntary, though, so public schools—both traditional districts and charter schools—can choose whether they wish to subscribe. The vast majority do.
The recent budget proposal, however, would require participation and would expand the mandate to include nearly every high school in the state. That includes all of the state’s traditional districts, public schools (like charters and STEM schools), and private high schools. In doing so, the state aims to “assist with efforts to support and encourage students to complete the FAFSA form.” The bill also authorizes the Chancellor at ODHE to publish all of this FAFSA data, including completion counts and rates for the state as a whole and each school.
Nothing’s certain, but these proposals have the potential to benefit tens of thousands of students. The graduation requirement provision could raise awareness about the financial aid that’s available, and could also push high schools to offer more assistance to families who are confused about how, when, or why to use FAFSA. Expanding data collection and tracking, meanwhile, will give school staff, community advocates, and state leaders a far better picture of the current FAFSA completion numbers. While seemingly small, these steps forward could open doors to higher education for more Ohio students.
In early March, President Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress kept the fiscal faucets open by passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). For Ohio, this means that more financial help is on its way. The Buckeye State will receive a whoppingin ARP funds for K–12 public schools, averaging about $2,800 per pupil, to be spent over the next few years. This is atop the roughly $2.6 billion for primary-secondary education that the state has already received via earlier . Altogether, Ohio schools will receive somewhere north of $7.0 billion in aid—equivalent to about of total annual education spending in the state. Wow!
Like the previous packages, at least 90 percent of those dollars must be disbursed to school districts and public charter schools viathat steer the lion’s share of funds to high-poverty schools. Districts such as Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton will collect more than in ARP money, while wealthy districts will mostly receive under $1,000 per pupil. Districts and charters will enjoy broad spending flexibilities, though the ARP does require that at least 20 percent of the funds be used to meet academic and social-emotional needs arising from the pandemic. The ARP also sets aside additional monies for the state education agency, for private schools, and to support homeless children and students with disabilities. Though not designated for schools, the ARP will also send Ohio more than for state and local governments which could use a portion for educational purposes.
A wealth ofabout how to put these dollars to good use. The most popular—and commonsense—ideas have been and intensive . Other worthy uses include efforts to reengage , , , give students opportunities to , . Moreover, schools could leverage these federal funds to make serious improvements to their pre-pandemic approaches to instruction (see Fordham’s new ).
While wisely putting these funds to use is critical, a less discussed issue is whether the flood of federal money will affect state education policy. Although the feds haven’t explicitly tied aid to policy changes, the dollars could alter the dynamics of ongoing debates. Here’s a few questions that might arise:
Will the influx of federal money change Ohio legislators’ appetite to spend lots more on education? We must realize that, despite the economic challenges of the past year, Ohio lawmakers are not currently discussing budget cuts. Rather—and perhaps surprisingly to those outside of Columbus—legislators are seriously contemplating major increases in state education outlays. The vehicle garnering the most attention is the Cupp-Patterson school funding plan, as laid out in. First unveiled , the plan would rework the funding formula and increase state spending on K–12 education by an estimated $2 billion per year. While that increase might’ve made sense before the federal efforts, it’s possible that some legislators won’t see as urgent a need to push more state money into public schools. What is the argument for more state expenditures—at least right now?
Will the funds allow legislators to address other priorities in K–12 education? As mentioned above, the federal relief programs direct far more aid to high-poverty urban districts. For instance, Cleveland will receive an eye-popping sum of roughlyacross the three packages. While these funds will be spread over multiple years, they will be added to the the district already spends per year, well above the statewide average of $12,700 per student.
To be sure, funneling more dollars to Ohio’s poorest districts makes sense. Students in those places have likely struggled most during the pandemic. However, state legislators may start to rethink plans to ratchet up funding for high-poverty districts. The Cupp-Patterson plan, for instance, proposes a boost through thefunding stream. Governor DeWine’s budget proposal directs additional money to poor districts via the . In normal circumstances, these would be commendable moves. But with money pouring into low-wealth districts, some creative legislators might begin contemplating ways to reroute funds within the state budget to help support other worthwhile initiatives such as removing funding caps, addressing charter facilities, or strengthening gifted, STEM, and AP/IB programs.
Of note: Legislators need to be mindful of an ARP provision called “” that prohibits disproportionate cuts in state funding to poor districts. That said, this doesn’t seem to disallow them from reining in planned increases.
Will the dollars create more demands for transparency and accountability? Given the anti-accountability mood around the statehouse, this one might be a longshot. But the influx of funding could shift some attitudes about school accountability. Taxpayers certainly deserve some assurances that the dollars are being used effectively and that students are getting back on-track. Will lawmakers see to it that there continues to be transparency around school spending and student outcomes? Will they start being more demanding about results? One might argue that accountability for federal funds isn’t Ohio’s responsibility. But just as the state hasresponsibilities for federally subsidized programs like unemployment compensation, policymakers should demand evidence that these education dollars are being used to benefit students.
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In normal times, the relatively modest amount of federal support—about 10 percent of overall K–12 education funding—usually flies under the radar. But will the billions in federal relief aid go unnoticed by state legislators? Maybe it won’t make any waves in the statehouse and schools will quietly enjoy spending the extra money. But it seems more probable that this unprecedented injection of funds will influence the shape of Ohio’s education debates.
Although most schools have returned to some semblance of in-person learning for families who want it, education researchers and analysts are still working to gauge the impact of extended school closures. A recently published research brief from Curriculum Associates takes a closer look at unfinished learning, another term for “learning loss.”
Using i-Ready’s criterion-referenced, grade-level placement tests, analysts compared student achievement during winter 2020–21 to the achievement expected during a typical school year. Students were asked to report whether they took the test in school or out, allowing researchers to disaggregate data based on testing location. The results from in-school assessments proved to be the closest to a “true” comparison of prior year performance, as the testing location was more consistent with historical conditions and the results were less variable from student to student. As such, the results reported in this brief cover only in-school assessment data—an important limitation given how many students are still learning at home full-time.
The sample includes students in grades one through eight who took the midyear diagnostic assessment during the winter of the 2020–21 school year. It comprises nearly 1,160,000 students for reading and more than 1,291,000 for math. Students from forty-nine states and the District of Columbia are represented, though the number of students is not statistically representative of any state. To compare winter results to prior years, the researchers constructed a historical average to represent typical performance during the three previous school years. They also matched student data at the school level to ensure that current and historical samples consisted of students in the same school, and school demographic data were obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics.
i-Ready assessments provide teachers and parents with grade-level placements that are relative to a student’s chronological grade level. Based on a student’s performance, they could be designated as on, below, or above grade level. For the purposes of this paper, students who were designated “Early On Grade Level” or higher are considered on grade level, which means they have partially met grade-level college and career readiness standards. They are referred to as students who are ready for grade-level work. Students who were designated “Two or More Grade Levels Below” are considered below grade level, which means they aren’t yet close to meeting college and career readiness standards. They are referred to as students who are underprepared for grade level work. The researchers differentiate between these two groups—students who are on grade level and those who are below—throughout the brief, as they observed slightly different patterns when examining the demographic data.
Overall, the findings indicate that unfinished learning was greater this winter in both reading and math compared to historical averages. In reading, the percentage of students considered ready for grade-level content decreased across all grades, with a particularly strong decline in grades one through three. The percentage of students who were underprepared for grade-level reading content also increased. Math results are similar. The percentage of students considered prepared for grade-level content decreased during the 2020–21 school year, with students in grades one through six demonstrating the largest amount of unfinished learning. The percentage of students who were underprepared for grade-level math content also swelled, with students in grades two through six showing the greatest increases. In both subjects, the youngest students appear to have suffered the most from school closures.
Unfinished learning was greater for students who attend schools serving a majority of Black or Latino students, although it is important to note these results rely on school-level demographics, which do not capture diversity within a school or variability within a school’s demographic groups. For this finding, the researchers focus on third grade results, as it is a “pivotal year” that research indicates is predictive of high school outcomes. Across the board and compared to historical averages, the percentage of third graders who were ready for grade-level work decreased in both reading and math. These declines were similar across groups and within each subject. There are, however, notable differences in which students were impacted. In reading, there is a greater increase in unfinished learning among those who attend schools serving a majority of Black and Latino students compared to schools with a majority White population. The results are similar in math, where unfinished learning was greater for schools that serve a majority of Black or Latino students compared to majority White schools.
Unfinished learning was also greater for students who attend schools located in lower-income areas. The researchers disaggregated data based on the median annual household income associated with a school’s zip code. They found that the percentage of students who are considered ready for grade-level content decreased regardless of income bracket and across grade levels and subjects. However, in reading, the decline among third graders was slightly less for students who attend schools in zip codes where the median income is greater than $75,000. Similarly, although the percentage of third graders who are underprepared for grade-level content increased regardless of income bracket, the changes were steeper for students who attend schools located in zip codes with an annual median income below $50,000. In layman’s terms, kids from lower income areas were less likely to be ready and more likely to be underprepared for grade-level reading content. The same proved true for math.
It’s still too early to determine empirically whether students have caught up after starting behind this fall. But the researchers took a look at changes in grade-level placements for a sample of students who took the i-Ready diagnostic during both the fall and winter testing windows to see if any patterns emerged. They found that in some subjects and grade levels, the difference between the historical average and the current school year increased, while in others it decreased. This particular finding must be interpreted with caution due to sample constraints, but it appears that the variability across subjects and grades makes the midyear results inconclusive as far as whether students are catching up.
The brief closes with several recommendations for addressing the “persistent and significant” challenges of unfinished learning. These include ensuring assessments deliver clear and actionable data, choosing high-quality and rigorous curricula that focus on grade-level work and addressing learning gaps as needed, setting ambitious yet attainable goals for students, and prioritizing coherence to avoid redundancy. These strategies and more will be desperately needed to address the unfinished learning identified in this report—and the even greater gaps that have likely opened up for students who haven’t set foot in classrooms in over a year and weren’t part of this particular analysis.
Source: “What We’ve Learned about Unfinished Learning,” Curriculum Associates (March 2021).
Interdistrict open enrollment (OE) is something of an enigma in Texas. It’s up to districts whether to open their borders or to keep them closed to non-resident students. But unlike other states, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) does not track or report such enrollment data statewide. A new analysis released by the Reason Foundation helps to provide a first-ever snapshot of OE in the Lone Star State.
The data, aggregated from regional reports compiled by the TEA following the 2018–19 school year, give only the most basic information. Of the state’s nearly 5,432,000 K–12 students, approximately 146,000 of them, or about 3 percent, attended a traditional public school outside of their residentially assigned district. Based on schools’ “Overall Scaled Score” or “Overall Rating” in TEA’s accountability system, students disproportionately left lower-rated districts for higher-rated districts. OE students also tended to transfer out of districts with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students, although the backgrounds of the departing OE student population remain unknown. A wide variation in the number of OE students accepted by districts was apparent, with some enrolling thousands from outside of their boundaries and others enrolling none at all. A data visualization tool developed with the assistance of the Texas Public Policy Foundation reveals the location of these hubs of activity and inactivity. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the observable patterns. It is not unusual for a district with a high influx of students to be surrounded by districts registering low outflows.
As the researchers lament, these data are broad snapshots of open enrollment patterns. There is no way to know which students are moving or how they are faring in their new schools. It is similarly unknown whether choices are limited or abound. Although a 2011 Brookings analysis of school choice policies across the country called interdistrict open enrollment a “widely available and easily accessible” form of school choice, author Russ Whitehurst told the Texas Tribune at the time that the lack of state level data in the Lone Star State served to lower the value of OE. “It’s not a marketplace if parents can’t really shop and compare and make a rational choice,” he said. This was perhaps an exaggerated response, but the criticism of data availability was valid then and is only slightly less valid now.
The Reason Foundation report raises a number of concerns on behalf of families, including opaque and varying transfer processes from district to district, which arise from the “black box” of Texas’s district-centric OE set up. While this analysis is a much-needed first step, more and better data must be collected and readily available if families are to benefit from OE in Texas to the fullest possible extent.
SOURCE: Jordan Campbell and Aaron Garth Smith, “Analysis of Texas School District Open Enrollment Data,” Reason Foundation (March 2021).