The new A-to-F report cards for Ohio’s schools and school districts were released this week and, as we sat stunned by the craziness of it all, we received a copy of this letter by Dr. George Wood that sums up the situation from the perspective of a seasoned educator. Dr. Wood is the Superintendent of Federal Hocking School District and Executive Director of The Forum for Education and Democracy. We thank William Phillis from Ohio E & A for letting us reprint it here.
Response to New State Report Card
George Wood, Superintendent, Federal Hocking Local Schools
August 23, 2013
With the release of the new state school report cards we are again being led down a dead-end road. There is no evidence that the way the state reports on student achievement, or school performance, primarily by using standardized test scores, helps children learn or our teachers teach. The ‘new’ report card simply continues this attempt to grade our schools with tools that are not up to the job.
In the Federal Hocking District we are pleased that our schools received an “A” on the one measure that really matters-graduation rate. Our schools have one of the highest graduation rates in Ohio, and we have some of the highest standards for graduation in the state (including requiring that graduates earn more credits than the state minimum, pass all state tests, and produce a senior project and a graduation portfolio). It should also be noted that among those students that graduated in 2013, and were FHHS students for four years, 87% of them are going on to higher education having been admitted to Ohio University, Marietta College, Middlebury College, New York University, and Ohio State.
Unfortunately, most of the new state report card is based upon the standardized tests students take. These tests have never been shown to have a positive effect on students after they leave school; be it in college, the workplace, or the military. While they are one measure that helps us identify some strengths and weaknesses in our program, they should not be the sole measure of the success of our children.
Further, the new report card continues a history of Ohio constantly changing the rules and standards for schools without sound reason or research to make such changes. Over the past two decades we have had a myriad of state programs and mandates on testing, teacher evaluation, and curriculum. In fact, by my count, in the past eighteen years Ohio has instituted, dropped, changed, and added over three dozen mandated standardized tests at virtually all grade levels. As the new report card is issued schools are grappling with a new mandated curriculum (known as The Common Core), a new teacher evaluation system (the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System), soon to be released new high school end-of-course tests, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, and new health and safety regulations.
The constant changing of the rules almost seems to be designed to make our schools look bad. All over Ohio schools that have had positive report cards in the past saw their scores tumble. One of our schools went from being rated “Effective” by the state last year to having an “F” grade in achievement-how is that possible?
It should also be noted that these new programs are more of the ‘unfunded mandates’ for which the State is so well known. There are no additional dollars directly provided to districts to implement these mandates (you can apply for grants, but even if you do not get one you still have to carry out the work). For most districts, such as ours, the current state budget has continued the trend of reduced or flat funding. We have now seen in the past two decades more than half a dozen school funding plans and have yet to see any of them carry out the Ohio State Supreme Court’s order to fix school funding.
Yet while state funding goes down or is static, their attempt at controlling our schools goes on. At Federal Hocking the state provides around 52% of our budget, but through the new state reporting system and the new state mandates they are attempting to control 100% of our agenda.
While we will use the new state report card as one measure of our work, we will not rely upon it as a sole or even the best measure of what we are doing. In fact, it would be short sighted for us to focus solely on test preparation, as it would have a negative effect upon our children limiting the range of educational experiences we offer them in our schools.
Our agenda will be driven by a set of progressive operating principles put together by our staff and approved by our school board in the true spirit of local control. Experience tells us that the state will, in the blink of an eye, change the rules we face again and again. (In fact, as I write this the rules for the testing of high school students for graduation are so unclear they are not even posted on the Ohio Department of Education web site.) In order not to keep trying to dance to the tune played in Columbus we will focus on what is best for our kids. We may not get the best grades on the state report card, and we may be singled out for additional scrutiny by the state. But we will continue to keep our focus on the most important standard of all, providing our families with the schools and classrooms that move our children on to graduation and a productive life after school.