The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

December 13, 2012

Ohio Senate approves letter grades for schools

COLUMBUS — State lawmakers were divided Wednesday over whether a bill switching schools to an A through F performance ranking system was the best thing for students, educators and families.

A bill requiring the switch cleared the state Senate on a 27-6 vote, with House approval of changes expected before the session’s expected end this week.

The legislation calls for developing a letter grade scale for school districts, school buildings, community schools, STEM schools and college preparatory boarding schools based on more than a dozen performance measures. Those include elementary-grade literacy, student academic performance, graduation rates, college readiness and a host of other criteria.

Letter grades would be phased in to replace the current five tiers: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective and excellent.

Senate Education Chair Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican, said the bill’s completion during the lame duck session doesn’t mean it was rushed.

“I want to assure the public as well as this body that the language before you today is not the result of a flurry of last-minute legislative activity but rather the result of six months of discussion, consultation, drafting and re-drafting,” she told senators during floor debate.

Lehner said the bill is designed to help schools prepare for the transition to tougher national Common Core standards in English and math.

The Senate changed the bill to set up a safe harbor designed to prevent schools from experiencing sudden drops in rankings as the state moves to a more rigorous evaluation system. No overall grades for districts would be given this coming year as the transition takes place.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Youngstown Democrat, said the Ohio is moving too quickly, saddling districts and teachers with a mountain of new requirements.

“After speaking to teachers, principals and superintendents I hear things like, ‘This is too much too fast,’ ‘This changes the rules in the middle of the game’ and ‘You’re creating constant moving targets,”’ Schiavoni said. “Not only is this frustrating for administrators and schools but it’s demoralizing for teachers.”

He said Ohio residents who have gone to school to learn how to teach children are being “nitpicked” by overzealous lawmakers.

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