Ohio school district report cards to switch to letter grade system

Superintendent: New grading system focuses on individual students, workforce preparation

by Conner Howard | reporter Published:

Twinsburg -- Students won't be the only ones receiving letter grades, as the Ohio Department of Education plans to change the school report card system from labels to letters beginning in the fall.

The A through F designations will be phased in over the next two years, and the first state report card with an overall grade will be issued in 2015. Districts will be issued letter grades on specific criteria, as opposed to the current labels of "excellent" or "continuous improvement," beginning in August.

Twinsburg schools were rated "excellent" on the 2013 state report card, which would, under the new system, translate to an overall "A" in performance indicators and a "B" in performance index, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The district would have received an "F" in the value added category for students with disabilities. Board of Education member Steven Shebeck said the district is struggling to keep up with rising standards in this category.

"The part we struggle with is this value added component," Shebeck said. "[State officials] want students to make extra progress. That's what we're struggling with, is how we can jump-start our value added component. From the preliminary data, that looks like where we're probably the most deficient."

Superintendent Kathryn Powers said the new system will benefit the Twinsburg City School District by placing a more specific focus on individual students, as opposed to the generalized current labeling system.

"The importance to the district would be the focus on individual students," Powers said. "What happens with the [new] report card is it's not the district painted with a broad brush about academic success. It's really paying attention to individuals and groups of children and making sure that they're making progress over the school year. That's really the significant difference over what we currently have."

Grades for six individual student measures -- achievement, progress, gap closing (how well a school or district is narrowing gaps in reading, math and graduation rate according to socioeconomic, racial, ethnic or disability status), graduation rate, kindergarten through third-grade literacy and whether graduates are prepared for college or work -- will be used to compile one overall grade for the school or district.

The Ohio Board of Education will work with educators and communities in the coming months to determine how to award letter grades in the categories. Beginning in August 2013, schools and districts will receive letter grades for nine specific measures, though no overall grade will be issued until 2015.

The two-year transition period is intended to give districts time to adjust to the new system and direct their efforts toward the new criteria, Powers said.

"I think it's just trying to align everybody and give the schools and the district a letter grade similar to what the students would get," Shebeck added. "Once they get the bugs all worked out ... I think districts will have a better feel for it."

A key addition to the new assessment process is workforce or secondary education preparation, Powers said.

Powers said the Ohio Achievement Assessments, which students in grades 3 through 8 currently take, will be replaced by the online "Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers" tests.

"What you'll be seeing in our school district is really making sure that we are strong with our infrastructure," Powers said. "That's why [technology coordinator] Matt McGing's going to do the wireless initiative this summer. That's the beginning of making sure we have the technology to support these new assessments."

Students in their sophomore years of high school will take a College and Career Readiness Assessment and an End of Course Exam, the latter of which will replace the Ohio Graduation Test. Powers said this will allow students time to plan in their junior and senior years for college and/or the workforce.

"That will diminish the need for students to have to take remediation courses at the college level or when they enter their careers," Powers said.

Under the new system, "value added," a measure of how much a student has advanced academically in one year, will be broken down more specifically under the "growth" category, which now has separate categories for gifted students, students with learning disabilities and students in bottom 20 percent achievement group. Powers said the new report card will assess gifted students as a specific group so that the group’s progress can be determined and curriculum can be catered toward it.

"We've never really been given a grade on how well the gifted population that attends our school district is doing," Powers said. "That will add another group of children that we need to make sure we are accelerating them."

Email: choward@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9423

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