The Ohio Department of Education just released its latest round of school district Report Cards, an assessment that is only going to become more important to each district’s ability to secure state funding.

Each year, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) releases in-depth Report Cards detailing the performance of public school districts across the state. ODE readily admits that the Report Cards are “only one part of the story of what is happening in a district or school,” but in the view of many district superintendents, this concession does little to lower the stakes of these critically important annual statewide reviews.

Released earlier this month, the latest round of Report Cards announced mixed results. Some districts demonstrated impressive progress: both the Union Local School and Buckeye Local School Districts raised their “F” grades in K-3 Literacy to “C” grades. Others suffered setbacks: the Martins Ferry City School District’s grades in Progress and Prepared for Success slipped from “B” to “D” and “D” to “F,” respectively.

What seems to be consistent across Ohio, however, is frustration with what many see as inconsistent state policy. As Bellaire Local School District superintendent Darren Jenkins points out, “In the past four years, all of Ohio’s schoolchildren have been subject to three different test formats. [The state’s] reliability and validity of testing is not very good. That’s going to be reflected in test scores statewide.”

How the Report Cards Work

As Jenkins suggests, the ODE bases its Report Cards largely on students’ performance on the Ohio State Tests. School districts are asked to report their students’ test scores to the ODE each year so that the state can evaluate the districts according to a rubric that includes six broad performance categories. Four of these categories — Achievement, Gap Closing, K-3 Literacy, and Progress — are directly related to Ohio State Test performance.

According to ODE’s Guide to 2017 Ohio School Report Cards, the Achievement component “represents the number of students who passed the state tests and how well they performed on them.” Similarly, the Progress component “looks closely at the growth that all students are making based on their past performances.”

But the rubric isn’t nearly as straightforward as it sounds. “The report components, benchmarks, cut scores, etc., have been increased and altered by the state so many times in recent years that it has become very difficult for educators to use the information in a meaningful way,” says East Central Ohio Educational Service Center Superintendent Randy Lucas.

Ohio’s decision to switch to online testing has complicated matters even further. This was the first year that school districts were required to administer the Ohio State Tests on a computer, which many educators believe had a detrimental effect on their students’ results, especially among elementary schoolers. Even though today’s elementary school students are full-on “digital natives,” familiarity with their parents’ smartphones and tablets doesn’t always translate to skillful digital test-taking.

The Importance of Accurate Data Reporting

To the ODE’s credit, it has recognized the challenges presented by recent changes in Ohio school law and given school districts some leeway to navigate the transition. According to the ODE website, “A state provision called ‘safe harbor’ gives schools, teachers, and students more time to adjust to the new state tests. In most cases, there no longer will be consequences tied to the results of the state tests given in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.”

This means that Ohio public school districts have the rest of the school year to get organized, which will require a concerted effort by all district stakeholders on two fronts. First, schools must do everything they can to set their students up for success. Just as importantly, however, they must take steps to ensure that the grades they receive from the ODE as part of next year’s Report Cards are actually reflective of their performance. In order for this to happen, school districts need to reevaluate their data reporting processes from top to bottom.

At Vinson Consulting Group, we have years of experience helping Ohio school districts streamline and improve their education management information system (EMIS) data reporting processes and protocols. We understand that every district has different needs and expectations, and we have the expertise necessary to work with district stakeholders to come up with a data reporting solution that fits their unique circumstances.