By Lenny C. Lepola
If anyone thought they were confused by the Ohio Department of Education’s new state report card with a letter grade format, they should have attended last Wednesday’s Big Walnut Local School District Board of Education meeting.
After assistant superintendent Angie Pollock finished explaining the district’s 2013-2014 Report Card they would have been doubly confused.
Some parts of the report card were familiar, like the Performance Index. Big Walnut’s 2013-2014 Performance Index was 104.6, up 0.1 from last year, or 87.1 percent of the nearly impossible to reach top score of 120. Pollock said on the old report card, Big Walnut’s Performance Index score would have earned the district an Excellent rating.
On the new report card Big Walnut’s PI score earned a B. Big Walnut’s Director of Student Services Laura Lawrence said the coveted A Performance Index grade is going to be rare. Only two school districts in central Ohio received an A on their Performance Index on the current state report card, and only 27 of Ohio’s more than 600 school districts received an A based on their PI.
Pollock said what’s really unsettling — and confusing — about the new report card format is scores based on graduation rates.
Big Walnut High School received A for both four-year and five-year graduation rates with 94.1 percent and 97.1 percent respectively, but the percentages are not based on reality. Accuracy is important because graduation rate percentages combined with reading and math proficiency scores are averaged to determine the school district’s preliminary Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) score.
Pollock said according to the ODE’s statistics, Big Walnut had 13 seniors who did not graduate last school year. Big Walnut High School Principal Jeff Jones, who was at the board meeting, said last year the high school had 220 seniors and only one senior failed to graduate.
“We did not have 13 students that did not graduate,” Pollock said. “We had 13 kids start with us as freshman who did not graduate from Big Walnut. One of the problems with the new way the Ohio Department of Education is keeping statistics is if a student starts with us as a freshman and then moves to another school district and that school district fails to report that student is enrolled there, that student is considered a Big Walnut dropout, and that’s out of our control.”
Lawrence put it another way: she said a student could enroll as a freshman at Big Walnut High School in September and move in October, but the way the state is doing statistics and tracking shows that student is in the Big Walnut cohort through graduation.
For anyone who wasn’t confused enough yet, Pollock tossed Gap Closing into the mix. Gap Closing has to do with using AMOs to replace Annual Yearly Progress in the new accountability system. Gap Closing is important, according to the ODE, in measuring the academic performance of specific groups of students, especially subgroups, with each group compared against the collective performance of all students in Ohio.
Because of lower math and reading test scores by subgroups and cohorts who failed to graduate from Big Walnut last year, the district’s preliminary AMO dropped from 82.8 during the 2012-2013 school year to 56.4 during the 2013-2014 school year.
“This is not your old report card,” Pollock said. “There’s now multiple letter grades and shifting assessments that stay focused on common parts between the old assessments and the new, which is actually more rigorous. We met all indicators at the district level. The important thing to remember is we serve every child in our school system. We screen them, and if there’s a problem we start intervention.”
Board president Allison Fagan asked Pollock if there are aggregate data the state doesn’t use in its report card that would more accurately reflect the district’s success in serving its students.
Pollock said the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio has an alternate report card.
“The ESC’s report card is something I would like to show the community,” Pollock said. “But it’s the Ohio Department of Education information that hits the paper.”
Fagan said Pollock should release that alternate data to members of the community and local media.
“That’s the data our community needs to know,” Fagan said. “We want to emphasize that Big Walnut kids are learning and growing — that they’re not just test scores.”