Just how important is the state report card?

By Gary Knepp

The release of the state report card has become a yearly ritual in the life of every school district in Ohio. Good results are cheered. Poor results are rationalized. Realtors trumpet good results to boost home sales. Divorced parents use the report card in custody disputes.

Should these reports, based entirely upon standardized testing, have this kind of impact?

In some communities, this report is the only measure of a district’s performance. This level of importance has led to abuse. Teachers and administrators in Chicago and Atlanta have manipulated the scores. Millions of dollars are spent annually purchasing materials to prepare students for the tests. Countless hours of classroom instruction time have been diverted from educating our students to training them to take the tests.

There may be invisible factors that skew test results. Several years ago my daughter’s Junior High test scores were below her usual levels. I talked with several parents whose children had similar results. We learned that the air conditioner broke down on the test day, requiring the opening of the windows. All three students had allergy attacks while taking the tests. There’s no scientific correlation here, but it makes you question the validity of a test taken on any given day.

When looking at test results over time, you may notice that a certain cohort of students consistently do better that others. A bulge of higher scores pass through the school and fall off the following year, distorting the larger picture. Some sub-groups that are tracked by the test may have very small numbers of students. Individual variances on the test score can seem to be more significant than they really are.

Because of these factors and an overemphasis upon the results, I’ve never been a fan of the state report card. Near the end of my first term, I suggested that Milford create its own district report card that would include other measures of the district’s performance such as overall academic achievement, fiscal responsibility and community participation. The Milford Quality Profile has evolved from this recommendation.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to review this year’s report, you may click here.

Unfortunately, in this era of educational accountability with its over reliance upon test results, the state report card will continue to have an outsized importance. Hopefully, we won’t get caught up in the mania surrounding the yearly ritual, but will use broader measures to gauge our district’s progress.

Milford, is, of course, not perfect. There’s room for improvement. The progress that has been achieved during the last six years has been impressive. Let’s stay the course.

Gary Knepp is a candidate in the November 5, 2013 school board election. Visit his website at kneppbradyforschoolboard.com.

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