Ohio school districts brace for new report cards

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio schools, teachers and parents are bracing for anticipated downgrades as the state prepares for the Thursday release of new A-F report cards.

The revamped system ranking buildings and districts sets new, often tougher performance criteria and replaces such labels as "Excellent" and "Continuous Improvement" with more familiar letter grades.

The 2013 report cards will feature letter grades in the first nine graded performance measures, said Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton.

Districts and school buildings won't be given overall grades under the new system until August 2015.

Charlton said officials anticipate that many schools will see poorer grades initially in some areas as a result of the adjustment.

The initial jolt is expected to subside as the system is fully phased in through 2015.

The department plans to make the report cards available to the public on its website at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Damon Asbury, director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said the absence of an overall ranking may serve to free parents and educators to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of their schools under the new system.

"In some respects not having an overall grade might help people look at the individual components more, to decide where it is we're succeeding and where it is we should be doing better," he said.

A-F report card legislation that Ohio passed last year required developing a letter scale for school districts, school buildings, community schools, STEM schools and college preparatory boarding schools.

Performance criteria included elementary-grade literacy, student academic performance, graduation rates, college readiness and a host of other characteristics.

The letter grades replace the former five-tier rating system of categories: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective and excellent.

The extended rollout and delayed overall grades are intended to prevent schools from experiencing sudden drops in rankings as the state moves to a more rigorous evaluation system.

In an email this week to school administrators, State Superintendent Richard Ross said the state will be discouraging comparisons with the old rating system.

"In our communications about these new report cards, we will be emphasizing that these nine measures cannot and should not be averaged into a single grade for a school or district, and that we will wait until 2015 to issue component and overall district and building grades, once we phase in the remaining measures," he wrote.

Asbury said report cards are changing as underlying educational goals in the state are getting tougher.

Earning a score of proficient, for example, will require getting an 80 percent rather than 75 percent, he said.

Michele Prater, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association, said the state's largest teachers' union is remaining optimistic.

"While we anticipate that many schools will see poorer grades initially, we hope the new report cards are grounded in fair, reliable methodology based on valid, research-based indicators that are both informative and easily understood."

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