Ohio Report Card Reviews Say Make Them Simpler

A classroom at Cleveland's Campus International School. (Ashton Marra/ideastream)
A classroom at Cleveland's Campus International School. (Ashton Marra/ideastream)
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Two national education advocacy and research groups say Ohio’s school report cards need to be simplified so that parents can more easily use the information they hold.

The nonprofit Data Quality Campaign and Thomas B. Fordham Institute released separate reports this week, both recommending ways to simplify the annual reports.

DQC reviewed the report cards for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, releasing a general set of recommendations for the nation.

They begin with the complexity of the language. Report cards are written at a grade 15 reading level, DQC Director of Policy and Advocacy Brennan Parton said, and even her analysts with master’s degrees struggled to understand what some states were trying to convey.

“The language that’s on report cards is not always accessible for the average parent, the average community member,” she said. “So, thinking about how can we make this language most accessible, most easy to understand is something every state across the nation should be improving on.”

The DQC report said states are also not taking into account the language barriers a growing number of parents’ face. It found just 9 states offer translations, of which Ohio is not one.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports 100,000 Ohio children live in a home where parents have a difficult time speaking English, the only language in which the report cards are available.

Fordham’s report, titled “Back to the Basics,” is more specific to Ohio. The Washington, D.C., based group has a Columbus arm that focuses on Ohio education policy work.

In its report, Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill also recommends a simplification focused on the number of letter grades that appear on district and school report cards.

Some include up to 14 grades, he said, and that number will increase to 15 when the overall grades are added to the report cards next year.

Churchill said Ohio lawmakers should choose five or six key areas, like umbrellas, and give letter grades there, getting rid of the individual grades for subcategories.

Additionally, Churchill’s report recommends shifting the weight of overall scores themselves, focusing less on the student growth measured in one academic year and more on how schools and districts are helping students grow over time.

The current system creates an unequal playing field for high poverty schools, Churchill said, whose students face challenges outside of the classroom that their peers in high income districts don’t.

“Our recommendation is to place greater weight on growth so the high poverty schools don’t always receive a D or F. We think that’s fairer for them,” he said, “especially those that are doing well.”

If a school is not showing improvement in both performance and student growth, then they deserve those failing grades, Churchill said, but for now, Ohio isn’t doing enough to take the impact of poverty into account.

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