Ohio’s latest report cards for public schools, which show fewer schools performing at top levels, “should ring an alarm bell that our current school-accountability system is deeply flawed and needs to be scrapped,” argues Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association, in a letter to the Columbus Dispatch. Higgins suggests the state “should get away from punitive labels that do little to inform parents of what’s really happening in their children’s schools.”
Earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Education released the report cards, which grade schools on an A-F scale. This year fewer districts earned top scores compared to past years. Only two “A” grades were awarded on the performance index, down from 37 in 2013-14. About half the districts received “C” grades, and a third received “D” grades.
District grades are down in part because a smaller percentage of students scored at or above proficiency on statewide assessments. That’s attributable largely to the fact that Ohio officials replaced the state’s PARCC assessment with a test developed by the American Institute for Research (AIR), which was administered for the first time this past school year.
We agree with Higgins that Ohio’s drumbeat of new tests has created “turmoil” for students. She points out correctly, “Changes in the way in which students are assessed have caused significant disruptions in data that fail to give a true picture of learning that is taking place in our classrooms.” Or, as one district superintendent put it, “The folks up there in Columbus keep moving the finish line… Enough. Stabilize the system.”
Like Ohio, states that have “gone it alone” by adopting independent or state-created tests have overwhelmingly experienced disruptions, incurred big costs and introduced uncertainty for students, teachers and administrators. “Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges…states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process,” Jim Cowen explains.
A Chalkbeat article reiterates that conclusion: “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”
However, Higgins’ suggestion that Ohio should scrap its school accountability system puts the blame in the wrong place. That’s like blaming the clock for telling the time. Replacing Ohio’s accountability system would create even more disruption for schools and provide parents, teachers and taxpayers with less information about their kids’ educational growth.
Ohio policymakers deserve a lot of credit for setting proficiency benchmarks high, as many educators acknowledge. That is a good thing. By setting expectations high and holding schools accountable to them, Ohio is providing communities with honest and actionable information about how well prepared their kids are – and how well their schools are doing towards that end.
The lesson for policymakers is to stick to their commitment to raise standards and to measure students to higher expectations. Across the country, states that have put their full support behind implementation of high standards, and have worked to help teachers teach to those standards effectively, have consistently seen improvements in student performance. If Ohio commits to high-quality assessments and supports its educators, it’s likely that it too will begin to see improvements.