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New Bill Addresses Confusion Over Ohio's 'Value Added' Report Cards


Lawmakers are pushing for the state to take a closer look at the state report cards for school districts. But some are questioning the motive behind the review. 

The new school report cards switched to an A-F grading system a few years ago in hopes of becoming easier to understand. But students, parents, school administrators and even lawmakers are still having some trouble knowing just exactly what the report cards are saying.

Ohio's switch to a letter grade system for rating Ohio schools in 2014, last year's problem plagued PARCC tests, and confusion over 'value added' ratings has made it difficult to consistently assess Ohio schools.

Especially confusing is the section known as “value added” -- which measures how well a school did in advancing a child’s education and looks at specific groups including gifted students, students in the lowest 20 percent of advancement and students with disabilities.

Republican Representatives Bob Cupp of Lima and Ryan Smith of Bidwell have introduced a bill that would review just how the state comes up with their grades. Smith says it’s important for the public to understand how the measure works.

“Anytime we can simplify things for parents I think that’s a great thing, but we wanna get it right for the kids first and foremost.”

And Smith says the value added section leaves people asking questions.

“Why they scored the way they did. How they came out. How sensitive it was. Maybe how it’s affected by online versus paper and pencil. All these are similar questions that I get all the time,” says Smith.

Democrats question motives 
Smith and Cupp talked about their bill in a House Education committee meeting where most seemed to be in favor of the idea of a review. But House Democrats, such as Representative Teresa Fedor of Toledo, had concerns about where this review might lead.

“Why are you looking at this? What is your motive? If your motive is to eliminate it for the school districts in your district that didn’t perform well and for charter school systems that don’t want the value added because it will shine a light even further that they’re failing -- let’s be honest about it," says Fedor.

Fedor is sending out a warning, telling people to take a close look at where the review goes - and specifically to see if top charter school lobbyists call for it to be tossed out altogether.

In response, Rep. Smith says, “Clearly she thinks we want to scrap value added and that’s just not the case.”

Bill's sponsors bristle 

Anytime we can simplify things for parents I think that's a great thing, but we wanna get it right for the kids first and foremost.

  Smith took offense to what Fedor was implying.

“Representative Cupp and I -- I don’t think -- are considered to be knee-jerk reaction kind of people."

Smith added, "We want to thoroughly look at this and try to figure out how it affects our kids and make sure if we’re changing something -- if we need to change something -- or if we just need to leave it alone. At the end of the day if we leave it alone we’re all going to understand it better and know why we’re leaving it alone.”

Rep. Bob Cupp ( R - Lima ) is introduces HB 524 to review Ohio's 'value added' measurements as part of the state's school report cards.

There’s also a concern that a review could lead to unforeseen consequences. Democratic Representative Debbie Phillips of Athens says she’s all for taking a close look at data.

“But sometimes it goes in an unintended direction and I think we’ve seen that with the over-testing -  people wanted to see how schools were doing, they wanted some measurement, some accountability, but then it’s gotten way beyond the point that most people are comfortable with,” says Phillips.

To Cupp, this review is open ended.

“I’m willing to go to wherever this discussion leads us that will result in more transparent, accurate representation," says Cupp, "and I’m not casting a judgment on it -- of our student progress or where we ought to go.”

The bill has had one hearing on the House side so it still has a ways to go before becoming law. The Ohio School Boards Association says they’re open to the opportunity of talking about the grading process.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.