State grading frustrates West Jeff school leaders

(Posted Oct. 12, 2016)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

Sweeping changes in the way Ohio calculates local report cards found Jefferson Local High School, like many other districts across the state, dropping dramatically from an “A” to an “F” with more changes on the way.

The Class of 2018 will be the first required to meet even higher standards of college and career readiness in order to graduate by not only earning 20 or more credits in specific subjects, but also showing proficiency in state tests, receiving an industry credential or earning a remediation-free score on the ACT or SAT.

As one of the trio of options, students must earn at least 18 points in seven end-of-course tests covering English, math, government and American history. There is also a minimum requirement in specific areas, and districts are graded for all student scores and participation.

“I can speak to my frustration with end-of-course exams,” said high school Principal David Metz during an Oct. 10 school board meeting.

In 2014-15, the high school was an “A” rated school, meeting all indicators.

“In 2016, we’re now rated as an ‘F’ building,” said Metz, who criticized testing overload at the direction of the Ohio Department of Education and the state legislature. “It doesn’t matter if they’re on an IEP (an individualized education plan for students with disabilities), they all (11th graders) must take the exams.”

According to Metz, students are permitted to retake exams, and the district encourages the practice, but each retake counts against the district’s report card.

“It’s a moving target,” reported Metz. “The minimum standard changes from year to year and will change again. It changed this year from paper to pencil to computer-based testing and from what I saw, our students had great difficulty making that transition.

“Students and staff do not get to see actual test results. There’s no timely, specific feedback or true sample questions from previous tests to prepare for future tests.”

Compounding the problem is the number of Jefferson Local students attending Tolles who lag behind in average points, he said. While the high school offers remedial support and test retakes, Tolles does not.

Metz said he plans to meet with those students to discuss possible solutions.

Unhappy with the fluidity of the state assessment, board member David Harper said the board needs to get together with administrators and devise a plan that will support the high school and its students.

“I want it to be known this is totally unacceptable behavior from the state,” Harper said. “We’ve got to find a solution to support our students.”

Metz said 96 percent of Ohio schools failed to meet standards on the most recent eighth-grade reading test. He reiterated that the state is very slow to release any sample questions. He emphasized that his staff is doing the best they can with what is available.

Metz also shared a recent survey distributed by the Ohio Department of Education asking for input about student progress tracking and support for those who are at risk. The survey is the result of school districts voicing concern about at-risk students not earning enough points to qualify for a diploma starting in 2018.

Superintendent William Mullett said area superintendents met with state Senator Bob Hackett of London to impress upon him the urgency of the problem.

“There’s a lot of frustration out there that is very widespread,” said Mullett. “I’m all for any pressure applied to the state legislature. This is just one of myriad interferences from our state legislature.”

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