EDS NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles on local school district’s 2015-2016 Ohio Department of Education report cards.
ARCANUM — While the annually issued “Report Cards” assign grades for each of the Buckeye State’s public school districts, the grade the assessment gets in return from teachers and administrators is often “incomplete” at best, and “failing” at worst.
Arcanum-Butler Superintendent John Stephens says constant changes in testing and the grades given by the state don’t necessarily reflect the performance of teachers and students in his district.
“I have had the pleasure of being the elementary principal and the superintendent at Arcanum-Butler for a combined 10 years now,” he said. “While we have always ‘owned’ our data from the state report card and continually strive to meet the increased expectations and score well, the report card doesn’t begin to tell the story of success at Arcanum-Butler Local Schools. The achievements of our students and dedication of our staff goes far beyond a test given on one day and cannot come close to defining who we are.”
Stephens said because of the testing changes from year to year, it is difficult to determine if progress is being achieved based on the report card data alone.
“Any comparison from this year to prior years is an apples to oranges comparison at best,” he contends. “Two years ago we were one of two districts in the entire Miami Valley that received all ‘A’s’ and ‘B’s’ on the report card. So what’s changed? It’s more like what hasn’t changed? The change hasn’t been in the quality of instruction our students receive here at Arcanum-Butler, but rather the frequent changes in testing, standards, and ‘increased rigor’ from our legislators and state board of education.”
“Our students,teachers and schools have been subject to unprecedented changes over the last three years. Each of the last three years our students have been required to take three different sets of tests — OAA (Ohio Achievement Assessments), PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and now AIR (American Institute for Research). At the same time we were being assessed differently, they cut score levels and passing percentages have changed.”
“There was hope when the federal government reauthorized the Every Student Succeed Act (formerly No Child Left Behind),” Stephens said. “Unfortunately, all of the federal reductions and regulations, specifically with testing requirements, didn’t help because we are bound by Ohio State law. While we were told the amount of testing time would be reduced, they decided to add nine additional testing measures that included high school end-of-course assessments and requiring all juniors to take the ACT. Students are still spending the months of March and April testing.”
While Arcanum-Butler students and teachers weren’t given any relief by the changes, Stephens believes they acquitted themselves well.
“Here’s what I can say about our report card history. The history of the Arcanum-Butler Local Schools state report cards has shown that our district has been able to meet and exceed expectations once the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) provides clear targets and the testing measures used are consistent,” he said. “Our students and staff have excelled in meeting increased expectations and adjusting to the frequent changes.”
“In the first year that schools received what we now term the state ‘Report Card,’ the district was given a rating of ‘Continuous Improvement.’ For the following few years, the district increased the rating to ‘Effective.’ Finally, in the last two years, the district increased its rating to ‘Excellent.’ Starting in 2012-2013, the state changed the report card from the use of superlatives such as ‘Excellent’ to using the graded system. In the first two years of using the graded system, but administering the same OAA, the district received all ‘A’s’ and ‘B’s.’ For the last two years, the report card has continued to use the graded system, but utilized two different types of tests, changing from PARCC/AIR tests to all AIR tests. During that time the district received grades ranging from ‘A’ to ‘D’ in the various categories.”
If deciphering the state’s report card is a confusing task for parents of Arcanum-Butler students, Stephens isn’t surprised.
“The legislators and ODE claim the report card makes it easy for parents and community members to follow. I find that untrue and amusing,” he said. “Each building report card contains approximately 30 pages each along with the additional 30 pages of a district report card. While people are used to seeing a grade card, actually understanding what they mean is a challenge for educators, let alone parents.”
According to the report card, Trojan students received “A” grades in the “Progress” and “Graduation Rate” components, a “C” in “Achievement,” a “D” for “K-3 Literacy” and “Prepared for Success,” and an “F” in “Gap Closing.” No overall grade was issued.
“So how did Arcanum-Butler do? We did better than most and as bad as others depending on the component,” said Stephens. “I can claim that we had success in the ‘Progress’ component (we scored an ‘A’) that measures how students have performed from one year to another, but I couldn’t begin to explain the math used to calculate the ‘A’ because we are comparing two different tests — PARCC and AIR. I can be upset about the ‘F’ in Gap Closing, but find it interesting that 526 of the 608 districts in Ohio received the same failing grade. We must being doing the same thing wrong that most every other school in the state is doing.”
“I think the bigger story is not how each district in our county performed on the report card, but the actual report card itself. The last few years you saw many community members upset about Common Core and placing signs in front of their homes. The current state of education and testing issues surpass issues with the Common Core. We need new signs,” he added.
Despite the difficulties presented by the state’s testing apparatus, Stephens says he’s proud of the staff, students and teachers in the district.
“Assuming the targets, tests, and standards remain the same, you can count on the Arcanum-Butler Local School district rising to the challenge,” he said. “Like we have always done, we will analyze the data and take a serious look at what it might be telling us. The report card data provides a piece of information that can help inform and improve instruction when used appropriately in the correct perspective. But, our expectations for success at Arcanum-Butler are more than grades on a report card.
“Arcanum-Butler will embrace a growth mindset and continue to strive for excellence in academics and prepare our students for successful lives after high school.”
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4314. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com