Once again, Ohio missed a chance to move progressively forward in helping to improve the state’s public education system.  Instead of promoting a clearer understanding of the (already off-target) measures that Ohio’s elected officials and, by law, the Ohio Department of Education use to rate schools and districts, the state’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver Request proposed a regression to the uninformative and out-of-date practice of using a letter-grade system.

As an educator and parent I could rail for days about the lack of actual meaning behind any letter grade, whether an A or an F, and this is a decision that even Rick Santorum would call anachronistic.  If your child brings home a ‘C’ on his report card, what does that mean?  Does than mean he’s working his ass off and completing all of his homework but struggling with expressing his knowledge on written tests?  Or does it mean that he’s uninterested in completing homework that isn’t challenging him while attaining perfect scores on assessments?  Or does it just mean that he is earning consistent C’s on every single assignment whether in-class, homework, quizzes, or tests?  Perhaps it’s some combination of the above, so what does that tell you or your son about what he needs to do to improve?

See how clear those letter grades are?

That’s why they are changing the method of rankings, of course.  According to the Columbus Dispatch:

“Heffner and other educators say the new rating system will give a more-accurate picture of how schools are performing. And report cards will be easier to understand because the state will issue letter grades…”

A school/district’s final grade will be based on their GPA that is based on their specific letter grades for four separate measures. (Unless, like many charter schools, you are only “taking two classes,” so to speak.  In these cases the charter is only averaged based on the applicable grades.)

It would be bad enough if the poor decision ended at the choice to use letter grades, but even worse is the selection of the four measures that Ohio believed would equitably represent a district’s performance.

  1. Percentage of State Indicators Met
  2. Performance Index
  3. Achievement and Graduation Gap
  4. Value-Added

It would be difficult to construct a list of measures that would illuminate the poverty gap in student achievement than the state has done here. Only the politically correct inclusion of the value-added measures (when they exist) prevent this plan from being the worst education “reform” idea ever.  Let me explain.

Performance by children on standardized tests has been directly linked to economic status.  In fact, Battelle for Kids, Ohio’s major advocate for the adoption of value-added measures by the state legislature for school rankings, has always utilized this fact as one of key benefits of using the results for learning about school efforts.  Their presentations utilize graphs that display the negative relationship between poverty and high achievement scores.  By contrast, they chart a flat relationship between value-added performance and poverty, offering low-achieving districts an opportunity to show that students are showing significant growth despite being less than proficient.  When research shows that children in poverty start off 2-3 years behind their wealthier peers, value-added is frequently viewed as an equalizer for these districts.

In short, the use of only student achievement score results would be no more than a demonstration of a district’s level of poverty.  So aside from measure #4 above, what are the other measures based on?

  1. Achievement test scores
  2. Achievement test scores
  3. Achievement test scores


#1 – Percentage of State Indicators Met

Of the 26 state indicators used by the state of Ohio, 24 are based exclusively on students’ results on the Ohio Achievement Assessments and Ohio Graduation Tests — Ohio’s standardized tests.  The other two are a district’s graduation and attendance rates.  According to the new grading system, a school district’s students could achieve successful levels in all three 8th grade indicators, all five 10th grade indicators, all five 11th grade indicators, both the Graduation & Attendance rates, and yet still be labeled with a grade of ‘F’ for this measure (58%).

#2 – Performance Index

A district’s Performance Index score is the state’s most direct correlation to the standardized test scores of students.  The higher a student’s score, the more points the district receives.  Thus the higher the collective student body scores on the tests, the higher the district’s Performance Index score.  This score is often referenced by the state legislature as a key indicator of district success and is the sole score used to determine which teachers will be required to retake licensure exams.

#3 – Achievement and Graduation Gap

This is probably the most complicated of the bunch and has been specifically created as a part of Ohio’s NCLB Waiver Request.  This uses the information that educators may be familiar with called AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).  This information is calculated by determining the progress of specific subgroups of students individually.  Those groups of students include Economically Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities, Limited English Proficient, and five race-based subgroups.  This premise could be considered one of the cores of 2001’s NCLB Act as it is supposed to provide incentive for schools to target every child across all populations, not just the “normal” kids in the district.  Have you already figured out how that progress is measured?  Yep, Ohio’s standardized tests.


Each of these three measures, including the value-added measure, will earn the district a separate letter grade.  When combined, these four scores will be averaged to create a composite score and corresponding grade (a 4-point scale like you probably had in high school and college).

A 3.75 – 4.0
B 2.75 – 3.74
C 1.75 – 2.74
D 0.75 – 1.74
F 0 – 0.74

So, to be clear, a district must get receive 4 A’s or 3 A’s and a B in order to achieve a final grade of an A.

To earn a B, the district must get any of the following:

  • A, A, B, B
  • A, A, B, C
  • A, A, B, D
  • A, A, B, F
  • A, A, C, C
  • A, A, C, D
  • A, B, B, B
  • A, B, B, C
  • A, B, B, D
  • A, B, C, C
  • B, B, B, B
  • B, B, B, C

If the district wants a C, then their students must earn the following:

  • A, B, B, F
  • A, B, C, D
  • A, B, C, F
  • A, B, D, D
  • A, B, D, F
  • A, C, C, C
  • A, C, C, D
  • A, C, C, F
  • A, C, D, D
  • A, C, D, F
  • A, D, D, D
  • B, B, B, D
  • B, B, B, F
  • B, B, C, C
  • B, B, C, D
  • B, B, C, F
  • B, B, D, D
  • B, B, D, F
  • B, C, C, C
  • B, C, C, D
  • B, C, C, F
  • B, C, D, D
  • C, C, C, C
  • C, C, C, D

If the district wants a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ then they’re on their own.  But based on the choices ODE made in crafting these measures, that district is guaranteed to be near the top of Ohio’s rankings in poverty.

See how much easier that is?