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D grades based on ‘junk science,’ superintendent says

By Kevin Kelley

Fairview Park

Had last year’s system been in place this year, the Fairview Park City Schools would have received the “Excellent With Distinction” ranking in the recently released Ohio Department of Education report card. But it’s not, and the district’s report card included two D’s.

The district met all 24 indicators, meaning at least 75 percent of students passed state proficiency tests in all grades the tests were given. That resulted in an A grade. The district received a 100.7 out of a possible 120 in the performance index, which indicates how well students did on the proficiency tests. The letter grade given for that score was a B. The 100.7 figure is less than one point lower than in the past two years, but higher than in 2009 and 2010. Twenty percent scored at the advanced, or highest, level, and 28.4 and 38.3 scored at the accelerated and proficient levels, respectively. Rewer than 7 percent scored less than proficient.

The district received an overall grade of D in the progress section of the report card, which measures how much students in grades four through eight advance academically in a single school year. Progress of gifted students was also given a D grade.

The statistical measurement called “value-added,” on which the progress section of the report card is based, is “junk science,” Fairview Park City Schools Superintendent Brion Deitsch said. Department of Education officials are hard-pressed to explain how it’s calculated, he added.

Even if students advance the expected amount in a school year, the result is a grade of just C, Deitsch said.

The comparison he uses is a sixth-grade student taking a spelling test. If the student spells all 20 words correctly, he would get an A. But under the state report card system, the grade would be a C. For the student to get an A under the report card measurement, he or she would have to correctly spell additional four words from the seventh-grade spelling workbook, Deitsch said.

Deitsch, a proponent of standardized testing in a field where many oppose it, said he fears more a more stringent grading system is being implemented for political reasons. The intent, he said, might be to portray public school districts in an unfavorable light to justify the diversion of education funding to charter school and private school voucher programs.

Such a privatization of education will end up segregating society, Deitsch said. Cutting government funding of public education will cost much more in the long run, he said, because it will result in a larger segment of the population that is uneducated and unemployable and dependent on public welfare.

By no means a defender of the status quo in public education, Deitsch said reforms have not come fast enough in America’s public schools. But he said the report card does a poor job of communicating to the public what the district’s schools are doing well.

“I’m frustrated for my teachers,” he said, adding that they have worked hard in cooperation with supportive parents.

Compared to last year’s report card, this year’s reveals that the district improved in some areas and lost half a step in others, Deitsch said. One positive result was that, for the first time ever, all indicators were met, meaning at least 75 percent passed the proficiency exams in all tested grades, he said.

Deitsch said he will review the report card results with the district’s principals in the coming weeks.

“It’s a lot to digest,” he said of the testing data.

Deitsch said the achievement of the district’s students is exemplified in a recent report from administrators of the ACT college admissions test. The results revealed that seniors from Fairview High School scored above the state average in each of the exam’s four areas, he noted.

 

 

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