Ohio House OKs plan to give schools letter grades

By JULIE CARR SMYTH | Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS -- Ohio schools would get old-fashioned A through F grades under a new performance ranking system that cleared the state House on Thursday.

Representatives voted 58-27 to pass the voluminous ratings overhaul, sending it to the Senate. That chamber's leader also has made the proposal a priority before the two-year session ends next month.

The bill would bestow A, B, C, D and F grades on school districts, school buildings, community schools, STEM schools and college-preparatory boarding schools based on 13 performance measures.

The grades would be phased in over four school years to replace the current five-tier system of excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch, and academic emergency. The process would begin with a "dashboard" of letter grades available to the public but no overall grade for districts this coming year.

Community schools serving mostly academically challenged students would see a different scale developed.

"It's a good bill, it's a comprehensive bill, it's a bill that's been a long time coming," House Education Chairman Gerald Stebelton told fellow lawmakers. "Could it be better? Probably. Will it get better in the future? We hope so."

Stebelton, a Republican, equated the lengthy process of hammering out the bill to sausage-making, saying lawmakers faced a Dec. 31 deadline for establishing the new ranking system in order to comply with conditions of a waiver the state received to the No Child Left Behind Act.

State Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat, said the bill introduces uncertainty yet again into Ohio classrooms in the absence of a school funding formula that would determine what money districts and schools will receive to carry out its requirements.

Rep. Matt Lundy, a fellow Democrat, blamed Gov. John Kasich for failing to establish the formula, despite promises to do so.

"Our children and our schools, in (this bill), are being set up for failure," he said. "There's a lot of moving parts that have to come together."

Stebelton said the current system does a poor job of measuring school performance.

Grade rankings for schools and districts eventually will be determined on a host of criteria, including student performance on a national standardized college admission test selected by the state Board of Education; graduation rates; the percentage of students deemed "college-ready"; and participation and achievement by students in Advanced Placement.

The legislation also orders the state school board to set a method for measuring improvements in literacy rates between kindergarten and 3rd grade, including possible use of measures for the new 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee.

State Rep. Kristina Roegner, a proponent of the bill, said the current system is misleading or "confusing at best."

"Everyone who went to school in the United States understands the A-through-F system," she said.

She also said standards laid out in the bill raises the bar in terms of academic performance.

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