Over the last couple of weeks, numerous newspapers across Ohio have run stories that have questioned the worth of the state’s new grade-based report cards for school districts. A soon-to-be-released report by Dr. Howard Fleeter of the Education Tax Policy Institute created much of the buzz as he compared a school district’s Performance Index (PI) Score with the district’s level of student poverty.
Nolan Rosenkrans of the Toledo Blade explains this connection between a district’s PI Score and level of poverty in a very accessible way:
The simplest way to show combined student performance within a school district is the state’s Performance Index, a weighted average of student test scores on a 0-120 point scale.
The simplest way to show the poverty rate of a district’s student population is the state’s economically disadvantaged statistic, which approximates poverty by using the percentage of students in a district who qualify for federally subsidized school meals.
There are 29 traditional public school districts in Lucas, Wood, and Fulton counties. There’s a -0.89 correlation between those districts’ performance index scores on this year’s report cards and their economically disadvantaged rate.
That’s a very high negative correlation, showing that as poverty rates increase, test scores drop. Not exactly a sophisticated analysis, but it helps that even basic data confirms what we should already know: Poverty level relates to group academic performance.
The use of a district’s Performance Index Score is also beneficial for another reason — it’s a figure that has consistently been reported and calculated the same way by the Ohio Department of Education for longer than nearly any other item on district report cards. The longevity of the PI Score allows us to follow the pattern over multiple years of data, not just one.
Since the state test results and district report cards were released two weeks ago, we’ve been working on a similar analysis of PI Scores and school district wealth. Instead of looking specifically at the level of student poverty, we decided to look at the overall income of the entire community using personal income tax data provided by the Ohio Department of Taxation. What we’ve discovered echoes the findings by Dr. Fleeter, but the magnitude of the problem, and how Governor Kasich’s new grade-based report card puts public school districts in a more negative light, surprised even us.
A district’s Performance Index Score can range from 0-120 and, as stated before, is a compilation of all of a district’s students’ standardized test results. The higher a student scores on a test, the more points the district can receive. Under Kasich’s new report card a district’s score is assigned a grade of A-F. Here is the breakdown of scores and the associated grade:
We weren’t content to look at just one or two years’ worth of scores, so we downloaded nine years of PI Scores for Ohio’s public school districts. From the Ohio Department of Taxation, we downloaded personal income tax return information for the corresponding time frame [note: 2012 is the most recent tax year for which complete information is available, so we also used those figures as estimates for 2013 & 2014 to compare to PI Scores]. The Ohio Department of Taxation reports both the median and average AGI amounts by school district. For our analysis, we opted to use the median AGI amounts as this reflects the mid-point for all individuals in the district – half above the amount and half below.
Nine years of PI Scores for Ohio’s 610 school districts reflects a total of 5,484 total “chances” for school districts to post a score above 108 and earn an A (on six occasions, there was a district that was too small to accurately report a score). As it turns out, very few have actually done so. Here’s a breakdown of all of the grades over the nine-year period:
For all the rhetoric we hear about how bad Ohio’s public schools are, the chart doesn’t look so bad. While the number of A’s is small, note that the number of F’s represents less than one per year. But take another look. Over nine years, only 181 times has a school district received an A. If this was a breakdown of your high school teacher’s grade book, you would probably take issue with their grading process, right? If only 3.3% of the time someone is getting an A, don’t you start to question the grading scale?
Let’s further analyze these numbers to see just how hard it is to get an A – but more importantly, what does it truly show?
For the most recent tax year, 2012, the median income in Ohio was $33,074 (remember that this means that half of the school districts had a median income below this amount and half above). The median income for all school districts over all nine years is $32,129.
For the 2013-14 school year, 37 school districts received an A – the highest number ever. Those 37 school districts had a median income of $52,025, nearly $20,000 more than the Ohio median. The lowest median income for a district receiving an A-grade last year was $36,598 – an occurrence that is likewise extremely rare.
Here’s a graph showing last year’s Performance Index Scores and Income:
The blue lines in the graph above show two key income points – $35,000 and $45,000. Consider these additional facts:
- Only one time in nine years (out of 5,484) has a school district received an A rating with a median income lower than the state’s median income (0.018%).
- Only three times in nine years has a school district have received an A rating while having a median income lower than $35,000 (0.055%).
- There have been only 46 times that a school district with a median income between $35,000 – $45,000 has received an A rating (0.839%).
- This means that in 9 years and 5,484 chances, there have been only 49 times that a school district with a median income less than $45,000 has received an A rating (0.894%).
Let’s put that another way. In 2012, 557 of Ohio’s school districts had a median income less than $45,000. That’s over 91% of Ohio’s school districts for last year, and represents 92.7% of school districts over the nine year period. And during those last nine years, school districts with that level of income qualified to receive an A grade for Performance Index less than 1% of the time.
Over the nine year period, for the 181 times a school district received an A, the median income for the district, correlated with the year it occurred, was also $52,025.
Now let’s look at whose is getting A’s for high scores on Ohio’s standardized tests:
- Only 44 out of the 610 school districts have ever received an A rating (7.21%).
- Eight of Ohio’s 610 school districts have always received an A rating for PI in each of the nine years, representing 72 of the 181 total occurrences. For those eight school districts, the median income (correlated with the year it occurred) is $65,253, more than double the state’s median income level.
- Seven school districts received an A rating for the first time in 2013-14. The median income for those seven districts is $52,025, the same median income for the nine-year period of A grades and the exact same median income for the 37 districts that received an A rating for 2013-14.
Here are some more facts to consider:
- In 3,899 of the 5,484 times a district received any PI rating, the median income of the school district was less than $35,000 (71.0%).
- Of those 3,899 times, only three times has a district received an A (0.o8% of the time).
- In 5,087 of the 5,484 times a district received any PI rating, the median income of the school district was less than $45,000 (92.7%).
- Of those 5,087 times, only 49 times has a district received an A (0.96% of the time).
Again, if you live in the vast majority of Ohio’s communities (92.7%) where the median income is less than $45,000, your school district has less than 1% of a chance at receiving an A on John Kasich’s report card. While it may seem easy to say that “the schools just need to improve”, nine years’ worth of data appear to reveal that the best way to improve student test scores is to increase the community’s income.
So we must ask ourselves – What are Ohio’s standardized tests truly measuring and what do the school report cards really tell us? Do they tell us about our schools or do they reveal something much, much bigger? Furthermore, how is John Kasich helping us fix this issue when he has dramatically cut funding to our public schools and placed the burden of funding on the backs of our already cash-strapped communities?
At the end of his Toledo Blade article, Nolan Rosenkrans summed it up very well:
All children deserve a quality education . . . But schools are often used as a scapegoat so that we can ignore our larger, structural social problems we don’t want to think about, much less address.
From where we sit, it looks like John Kasich’s actions, including his “new report card”, simply continue to heap the blame on Ohio’s public schools while he ignores a much larger issue.
Below are the graphs for the other eight years of our analysis in order from 2005-2013.