Recently, accompanied by the typical, over-the-top media circus, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released its most recent school district report card data, which is supposed to inform the public about how well their schools are performing. Of course, the report cards, which have cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars, do no such thing. But in true political fashion, our state legislators and their accomplices at the Ohio Department of Education aren’t swayed by the facts. Instead, they use the mass media as their own personal public relations juggernaut in an effort to convince us how important the report card information is. Don’t let them fool you.
Let’s take a few moments and look at the facts surrounding these report cards.
Let us begin with the timeliness factor. It is important to remember that student test scores are an integral component of a district’s report card, and without that test data, the report card does not exist. You might remember that last year legislators crammed a whole new battery of tests, known as the PARCC assessments, down school districts’ throats. Of course, we were all told that these new tests were much better than the previous tests that they had also crammed down our throats (although PARCC has been scrapped after one year and untold millions more of our tax dollars being wasted). Not to worry, we were told, because not only were the PARCC tests better, but they could be administered online. Administering them online, we were told, meant that we would have the results almost immediately, and that would improve instruction. Having the results immediately, we were told, would allow us to base what we taught on what the test results showed our students did and didn’t know. It would also, we were told, allow the state to compile the data quicker to share with the public via their wonderful report cards.
We were told wrong.
This “new and improved” system our legislators created was so efficient that school districts received their report cards for the 2014-2015 school year in late February 2016; more than half of a year into another school year after the tests were administered. To put this in perspective, this would be akin to you receiving a grade for your freshman algebra class in the second semester of your sophomore year. Now, there’s some timely and useful information!
But, timeliness isn’t the report card’s biggest problem. Its biggest problem is that it uses voodoo data to “prove” how effectively a teacher or school has impacted student academic achievement and/or growth. If you believe the American Statistical Association, which is comprised of statistical gurus who have forgotten more about how to properly use data than our legislators will ever know, most studies on student academic growth show that a teacher accounts for between one and fourteen percent of the variability in test scores. In other words, test results, which are the very foundation of the state report card, are impacted anywhere from eighty-six to ninety-nine percent by factors other than a teacher’s work with his or her students. Yet, the report card is issued as if school factors are the only things that matters. They are not. Please feel free to read their report for yourself at http://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf.
On the day the state report card was released, in an unusual show of courage and honesty by members of the political establishment, State School Board Member A.J. Wagner and State Representative Teresa Fedor issued a joint press release in which Representative Fedor said, “The flaws (in the data) are so pervasive that the grades on the Ohio School Report Cards should not be counted for anything.” Mr. Wagner took it a step farther by stating, “The tests, and therefore the grades, violate standards of fairness,” and “These report cards are not just inaccurate, they are harmful to our children, our schools and our communities.”
Bless them both!
So, might I suggest that instead of wasting your time reading press releases about how well your school did compared to your neighboring community’s school, or spinning your wheels trying to figure out what the mountains of inane data contained in your district’s report card are supposed to mean, or worrying yourself over whether or not your child’s PARCC test scores predict certain failure, take a few minutes and Google “Advancing Democratic Education: Would Horace Mann Tweet?.”
If you read this piece by Dr. Gene V. Glass, a national renowned statistician and researcher who knows a thing or two about the political intrusion into public education, you will learn more about your schools and the politicians who are intent on destroying them than you will learn from all the state report cards combined. Believe me, it will be time well spent.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.