By Julie Holderbaum, Minerva EA/OEA
Ohio’s taxpayers want our schools to produce flourishing young adults who will contribute in meaningful and healthy ways to our society, and they spend a lot of money to ensure that this happens. It makes sense, therefore, that schools are required to undergo a yearly check-up and share the results with our communities.
Any teacher or parent can tell you that a letter grade does not represent the entire child. A student can be quite intelligent, but if that child doesn’t turn in assignments on time, his grade will reflect not only his academic ability but his lack of responsibility. And that’s just classroom work; we all know that a child is more than classroom work. For example, a colleague of mine recently told me he saw my daughter comforting a friend in the hallway who was “freaking out” about a test her friend felt unprepared for. Jamie told me the story later of how she got her friend to take deep breaths and even laugh before going back to class. Frankly, I am prouder of that than any of the A’s on her report card.
Just as a student’s report card grades cannot show every aspect of awesome that lives in him, a school district report card cannot show all the beautiful and amazing moments that happen in our schools.
For example, the students in my small town’s elementary school have raised $95,000 for St. Jude’s over the last 12 years. Our middle school’s student council visits the local nursing homes and helps with the local food pantry once a month. Our high school seniors, twice per year, go into our community to rake leaves and plant flowers for the elderly, paint pavilions at the park, and more.
None of this shows up on our school district’s report card.
If I were choosing a new school district for my daughter, I would want to know what kind of opportunities are provided to teach children how to be good humans, not just good students.
I would want to know what kind of relationship the schools have with the community.
I would want to know not only what academic opportunities exist, but also what extra-curricular options are available.
I would want to know not only what academic support is provided for kids, but also what emotional support is in place to help children who live with poverty and trauma.
Our current report card system makes none of that information available to parents or community members. It is impossible to get a full picture of what wonderful things are happening in our schools.
Not only that, but the current system has damaged schools by basing many of the letter grades on testing, which has led to the loss of creative and playful activities in our classrooms and an increased and unhealthy focus on standardized tests. Tests are an easy factor to include on the report cards because they are a concrete measure, seemingly, of how a school is doing. What goes unmeasured is the stress the tests place on teachers and on students.
The current system even ties our hands when we try to do what is best for students regarding testing.
My high school recently considered giving the ELA II test to our 9th graders, in order to give struggling students more opportunities to pass the test and to give those who pass during their freshman year fewer tests to take as 10th graders. However, once we realized that those students who passed their freshman year could potentially count as zeroes on our performance index their sophomore year, we decided not to go forward. We could not risk a possible F in the performance index area of the report card.
Under the current system, any school building earning a D or an F in a report card indicator becomes eligible for EdChoice vouchers. Essentially, taxpayer money is pulled from a local public school and given in the form of a voucher to any private school a student wishes to attend instead. Thanks to the report card system, nearly ⅔ of Ohio’s school districts would be eligible for the vouchers in the 2020-21 school year. Consequently, the legislature was recently in crisis mode trying to address the problem before the February 1st deadline to apply for vouchers. Instead of solving the problem, however, they extended the deadline and bought themselves some time. This entire debacle could have been avoided if Ohio used an informative and fair evaluation system for its schools instead of a punitive one.
Furthermore, due to “failing” grades, three school districts in Ohio have now been taken over by the state. Many other districts are in danger of falling prey to HB 70, which allows local decisions by the school board to be over-ridden by an appointed (and well-paid) CEO. This is yet another harmful and unfair repercussion of the report card system.
Fortunately, widespread bipartisan support to change the way schools show accountability to their communities is gaining momentum in the Ohio legislature, perhaps because of the plethora of problems the report cards have caused.
No reporting system will truly show all of the greatness happening in our schools, such as the money our students raise for cancer patients or the small moments of kindness in a hallway. However, OEA has crafted a plan that would include a myriad of indicators beyond test scores and graduation rates. “Report cards” and A-F grades would be gone. Instead, a fuller picture of what is happening in our schools would be available in School Profiles. Mandated information such as test scores and graduation rates would still be included, but so would information about early childhood education, AP/Honors courses offered, whole-child classes available (art, music, world languages, health/wellness), ratio of guidance counselors to students, average class size, and more.
Ohio’s schools are more than a letter grade on a report card. We are not afraid of accountability. We are eager to show what we are accomplishing in spite of the many challenges we face. We only ask for a chance to show a more complete picture of what happens in our schools every day.
— Julie Holderbaum is an English Instructor and an Academic Challenge Advisor at Minerva High School, Minerva, Ohio.