Mirror Mirror on the Wall. Is This New Report Card Fair at All?

Late last month, Ohio’s new Report Cards were released and many news stories focused on how traditionally high performing school districts took some hits for failing to address issues among some of their most gifted and challenged students. There appears to be a shift from simply examining straight test scores (notoriously linked to poverty) to a more nuanced, thoughtful examination of their meaning. And while these data remain limited by the fact only a few tests are given in a few grades in a few subjects, it appeared that the state was headed in a positive direction.

Well, even though there are better aspects of the report card, the overall results remain the same: the richer your district, the better the performance. We have attached two charts below that show how different districts perform by both percentage of students in poverty and the state’s own classification of each district.

Grades by Poverty Rate
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Grades by District Type
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What you can see is that there is a mirror image in both lists. The districts with the highest poverty rates get almost the same percentage of Fs as the wealthiest districts receive As. Meanwhile, the state’s major urban districts receive about the same percentage of Fs as the state’s wealthiest suburban districts receive As.

Many of the measures being used in the new report card are measures we’ve seen before, like Performance Index and Standards Met. Those two categories have always been closely tied with a district’s level of poverty. So they remain so now. And the categories where poorer districts seemed to overcome their traditionally higher rated brethren weren’t enough to offset the advantages wealthier districts have in the traditionally judged areas.

What does this mean? It depends. The state has not developed an overall grading rubric yet. If the state more heavily weights the categories poorer districts do better in, then perhaps these initial raw data can be overcome. If not, then this report card, despite its improvements, remains little more than a measure of a district’s poverty, not its skill in educating children.