Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Annual Report Card – What does it mean to Hilliard?

The Ohio Department of Education has published the 2006-2007 School Year Report Cards. You can view the one for Hilliard City Schools here. Soon thereafter, the Columbus Dispatch ran a story summarizing the performance of the many districts in our area.

Once again, Hilliard City Schools was evaluated at the "Continuous Improvement" level. The local news establishment has a habit of equating the performance ratings with the letter grades we all brought home on our own report cards. So "Excellent," "Effective," "Continuous Improvement," "Academic Watch," and "Academic Emergency" are described as "A" to "E" respectively. In the words of The Dispatch, we earned a "C" on our report card. For most of us, that sounds pretty unacceptable.

However, there are problems with this evaluation system, brought about mostly because of our state government's attempt to meld our state evaluation system with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program. The part of this that trips us up is the requirement that all significant, or "official" subgroups must also meet the federal reading and math levels, otherwise "Continuous Improvement" is the highest level that can be awarded.

It takes only 35 kids to make up an official subgroup. In a district like ours where a few dozen languages are spoken, it's not hard to have a number of these subgroups. I can appreciate the frustration on the part of Andy Riggle's curriculum team, who must design approaches for addressing the needs for all these groups, and of the classroom teachers who are the front lines of the battle.

I also understand the concerns of parents who feel the amount of attention their kids receive from teachers is diminished by the additional effort required to address the needs of these immigrant kids.

One response to this situation has been for school districts to appeal to their state legislators for help in getting this subgroup rule modified so that otherwise high performing districts aren't so severely penalized. Appropriately, our administrators have made that appeal to state Rep. Larry Wolpert and Sen. Steve Stivers.

But the real question is, what do these rating really mean, and what are the consequences of a lower rating?

Part of the answer is that there's an economic driver – the underlying theme in so many aspects of our school system and the community.

There is some justified fear on the part of the school board and school administrators that a low ranking sends a signal to the public that we aren't getting good value for our tax dollars, which means having a tougher time getting new levies passed when needed.

However, that can be easily overcome with an effective communications program within our community, my beef for a couple of years. We have smart people living here. Just tell us the facts with an appropriate amount of analysis, describe what the district intends to do in response, and trust our folks to make a valid determination of the quality of our schools. Our leadership team actually does a pretty good job with this, relative to the report cards at least.

Who else cares about these report cards? The residential real estate industry: developers, home builders and real estate agents. Why? Because folks who are moving into an area often make their decisions about where to buy a house based on the perceived quality of the local school system. So Hilliard's "Continuous Improvement" would scare away many potential homebuyers. Those potential buyers who dig deep enough to find out why our schools got this rating might not be comforted to learn that it is due to the problems serving immigrant subgroups.

For those folks trying to sell existing homes in our school district, I have sympathy for their plight. It is tough enough to sell a house right now, and negative news about the school district is never helpful.

Could this lower rating slow down our student growth rate? While it is true that it might slow down the construction of new single family homes in our school district, the demand for new housing is extremely soft right now anyway. However, the influx of immigrant families may not slow at all. Many live in multi-family housing, and the lower report card rating may not be the same disincentive for folks struggling to make a fresh start. Besides, the case may be that these kids are benefitting from a level of attention not available in many school districts.

There is no question that this rating system has some flaws, and adjustments are needed. But some kind of evaluation system is essential if we want to have high quality education for our kids. The schools grade the kids so parents know how their kids are doing, but grading is relative to the standards of the school district. We also need the school district to be evaluated against some broader standard so we get a sense whether the grades our kids receive are valid. That is measured through standardized testing and state/national standards.

So do I have confidence that our administrators and teachers are doing a good job? I like the answer the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave when asked his opinion of the United States: "It's seems like there's more people trying to get in than to get out."


  1. When you look at the Report Card, it is important to evaluate all the details and put them in the appropriate context. Looking at the Rating Designations mentioned by the Dispatch will not completely reveal how a district is doing with regard to the Ohio Achievement Tests.

    The biggest thing that can hold down a district's Rating Designation is Adequate Yearly Progress, which you referred to as the evaluation of each subgroup's score against benchmarks. Even that is confusing, since there are certain provisions which allow districts like Columbus CSD to attain AYP even though a subgroup misses a benchmark.

    In some ways, I think the best indicator is the Performance Index, which factors in how well the district's students collectively are performing on the tests.

    Below are some districts near Hilliard, with the number of state standards met (out of 30), the Performance Index and the overall Rating Designation.

    Note that Worthington and Pickerington are in much the same boat as Hilliard. All three districts are rated as a "C", despite performing better than Westerville and Gahanna overall on the OAT/OGT.

    Last year when Hilliard received a "Continuous Improvement" designation, I had mentioned (on another site) that an increasing number of otherwise high-performing, diverse districts would meet the same fate as Hilliard. This year Worthington and Pickerington did. Next year, I predict that Olentangy, Gahanna and Westerville will also do no better than a "C" in its Rating Designation, since they have missed AYP two years running. Other districts could also end up in a similar boat.

    Unfortunately, many people are not attuned to the way this rating system works. Apparently, there were people in Worthington who were concerned that their well-respected district was suddenly slipping towards mediocrity. The Dispatch, of course, capitalized on this and even ran a special story in today's paper.

    Dublin.........29/30 103.7 Exc
    Olentangy......29/30 102.8 Exc
    Worthington....29/30 102.4 CI
    Hilliard.......28/30 100.2 CI
    Big Walnut.....27/30 100.2 Exc
    Pickerington...27/30 100.0 CI
    Gahanna........26/30 99.1 Eff
    Westerville....26/30 97.7 Eff
    South-Western..15/30 90.1 CI
    Columbus........5/30 80.5 CI

  2. I have enjoyed reading your blog and the important issues facing the Hilliard School District. Good luck in your campaign for the school board.

    In addition to the Report Card issued regarding NCLB, there are several other ways to really get a sense (and maybe a better sense) of how well your school district is performing. I suggest looking at ACT aand SAT results to see how the distict compares both statewide and nationwide. You can also use two other tests, if your district administers them, to predict student success on the ACT. These two tests are the EXPLORE (8th grade) and PLAN (10th grade). These tests are predictive of scores on the ACT and can indicate whether the high school curriculum and teaching in general is fully preparing students for higher education. Another excellent measure of student achievement is to study the remedial rate in college math and English of graduating seniors during the first year of college.

    Often times school districts concentrate on meeting the standards required for NCLB and overlook other important and potentially more revealing data. In terms of state developed tests, it is wise to remember that the rigor of the test could potentially be in question. The NCLB Act allows states to develop the testing instrument used to determine if the state meets the standards of NCLB.

    I prefer to rely on a more comprehensive testing instrument like the ACT, SAT, or NAEP Test to evaluate school progress. There are also some international testing instruments which can be used to compare the academic achievement of students against our global competitors.


  3. BH:

    Thanks for the comment.

    Unfortunately, few people look past the headlines, which is the Ratings Designation. This is why I think Rep. Larry Wolpert's HB27 is important.

    I would agree that the ACT/SAT are meaningful indicators, but do you know what percentage of kids take these tests?

  4. I just received an e-mail from Hilliard CSD that the district will receive an "Excellent with Distinction" rating, when the report cards come out next week.

    Apparently, there is an additional way that AYP can be met - added for the first time this year. That enabled Hilliard to meet AYP and be returned to an "Excellent" rating, while meeting 30/30 indicators and attaining of Performance Index Score of 101.1. Also, the value-added measure indicates that Hilliard CSD students received more than 1 year's worth of academic progress over the last two years (from one year to the next). That will give the district an "Excellent with Distinction" rating, which is the highest rating possible.

  5. Seems like there's more positive buzz about Columbus CSD getting 6/30 indicators and maintaining their Continuous Improvement rating than Hilliard's achievements. That's too bad.

    Granted, I believe that the Report Card is only one measure of a district's effectiveness (and a flawed one at that). However, it still is a good accomplishment. More importantly, there seems to be an indication with the new measurements that the longer kids are in Hilliard CSD, the better they perform. I'll have to digest those a little more to fully understand them.