Parents want letter grades on state report cards for Ohio schools, poll finds

The Columbus Dispatch – February 3, 2020

New poll finds that 70% of parents prefer A-F grades or 1-100 numerical scores over other state measures of a district and individual schools.

As Ohio lawmakers consider changes to state-issued report cards, a new poll shows that many parents support the continued use of A-F letter grades to rate individual schools and districts, saying the measure is easy to understand.

About 38% of those responding to the poll said letter grades were the best measure, followed by 30% who preferred numerical scores, 0-100. That difference falls within the online poll’s margin of error, plus/minus 4.4%.

Nearly 1 in 5 parents said text descriptions like “above expectations” were the best alternative, while only 8% preferred a 1-5 star rating, according to the poll released Monday.

Parents overwhelmingly found letter grades to be straightforward, with more than 9 in 10 agreeing they were easy to understand. And 87% said A-F grades were an appropriate way to measure the overall performance of a school or district.

Commissioned by Ohio Excels, a statewide education advocacy group created by business leaders, the poll was based on an online survey of 655 parents of primary and secondary school students Dec. 30 through Jan 15 by the Columbus-based Saperstein Associates.

The survey comes as state lawmakers consider changes to the report cards, which are a key component to Ohio’s K-12 accountability system. There appears to be widespread agreement that the way several measures are calculated can be improved; some have urged elimination of A-F grades.

The Ohio Department of Education has been issuing annual report cards for two decades. Letter grades replaced designations such as “effective” and “continuous improvement” in 2012. The ratings are largely based on student results from standardized tests and intended to inform parents and taxpayers how well a school is doing and help educators improve performance.

But critics complain about the strong correlation between test scores and the wealth of the districts, since richer schools tend to perform higher. They also argue that the ratings are punitive, as they can trigger state takeovers of failing school districts and expansion of tax-funded vouchers for private school tuition.

Ohio Excels has recommended keeping letter grades and hopes lawmakers will consider the parents’ views highlighted in the poll.

“Ohio business leaders understand the importance of maintaining a report card system that clearly, honestly and fairly evaluates schools and school districts while giving parents and communities insight into how well their schools are helping students learn,” said Lisa Gray, president of Ohio Excels.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers to ensure that Ohio maintains a system that helps highlight successful schools, encourages underperforming schools to continue to improve and drive increased student performance for all Ohio students.”

The poll also found 95% of parents want the report cards to include a measure of reading proficiency of elementary students, a key indicator of success in school, while 91% said they valued a measure on report cards evaluating student success after high-school graduation.