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Opinion: F Rating on State Report Cards Not the Full Story for South High

Mike Alcock Mike Alcock Opinion: F Rating on State Report Cards Not the Full Story for South HighState report cards demand a closer look.
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Last week the Ohio Department of Education released report cards for 608 school districts across the state. Each school receives an A-F grade based on three different performance metrics. Since those grades were published I’ve read and heard quite a bit of feedback – from both laypeople and hardcore public education experts alike – decrying the ‘F’ rating that Columbus City Schools received.

Let me say this up front: I won’t defend that ‘F’ rating. And I’ll be the first to tell you that our city’s public school system is in need of serious reform across the board, even if a lot of the factors that might influence those reforms are largely beyond the district’s control.

But understand, these report cards misrepresent – or outright hide – a lot of things happening in our city’s public schools.

Consider Columbus South High School, which is in my neighborhood.

According to the ODE, the school currently has an F in Achievement, assessing whether student performance on state tests meets established thresholds on how well students performed on tests overall; a D in Progress, or the growth that all students are making based on their past performances; an F in Gap Closing, which measures how well schools are meeting the performance expectations for the ‘most vulnerable students in English language arts (ELA), math, graduation and English language proficiency; a D in Graduation Rate; and an F in Prepared for Success, revealing how well prepared students are for all future opportunities, whether training in a technical field or preparing for work of college.

Three F’s and two D’s. If my kid brought those home, they would be in some serious trouble.

However, at a recent Community Meeting hosted by Columbus City Schools, I was challenged to look a bit deeper than those letter grades. What I learned is that those measurements don’t actually capture many of the more granular performance gains that are happening right now at South High, which has been operating as a non-traditional 7-12 model since 2012 when the school was renovated.

For example:

  • South High has the highest amount of Young Scholars in the state (11 Young Scholars last year and a total of 25 in the past few years). Because South offers Dual Enrollment courses for college credit, the 7-12 model allows the school to bridge the gap and prepare them in 7th and 8th grade. Faculty members work to strengthen their soft skills and prepare them for the rigor they will encounter. They know that they have the opportunity to the take college classes in an environment where they feel at home. Teachers take pride in making sure they are prepared.
  • South High currently offers nine Columbus State Courses. South has one student who has exceeded our Columbus State offerings and now is taking his math course on campus.
  • South High School has two cohorts of students currently enrolled in the Accelerated English classes. These classes are offered in 9th and 10th grade and then these students take Columbus State Dual Enrollment courses in 11th and 12th grade. Having middle school in-house allows the school to cultivate these students and prepare them for this academic challenge. (South is one of only a few schools piloting the Accelerated English course.)
  • South High offers freshman math to nine 8th grade students. (This is due to the school’s 7th grade teachers differentiating and accelerating these students.)
  • South High is one of the only middle schools to show continued improvement in both reading and math on the AIR test in the district.
  • South High has AIR scores that rank in the top six schools in the district in many areas and ranks in the middle in other areas. This is despite the fact that South High has more poverty, more transient students, and more truancy than many schools. South High School has scores that are significantly higher than schools with similar demographics. This is where the school’s Spring 2018 scores landed:
    -7th grade ELA was 5th in the district
    -7th grade Math was 2nd in the district
    -8th grade ELA was 9th in the district
    -8th grade Math was 8th in the district
    -9th grade Math was 4th in the district
    -9th grade ELA was 6th in the district
    -10th grade ELA was 5th in the district
    -10th grade Math was 3rd in the district

Additionally, the South High School graduating class of 2018 had the following accomplishments:

  • 84.47% Graduation Rate
  • 16,856 Internship hours
  • Over one million dollars in scholarships
  • 123 college credits accumulated
  • A Gates Millennium Scholar – one of just 300 students chosen for this prestigious honor across the country – who chose to remain at South High instead of transferring to a school that’s traditionally performed better according to ODE performance metrics

(All of this information and more can be be obtained by making a public records request through Columbus City Schools.)

This is at a school with three F’s and two D’s.

If you look hard enough and speak to the folks working every day in our city schools, you can find this kind of ‘data behind the data’ at every school in Columbus City Schools.

And that’s not even getting into all of the myriad other ways you can look at public school performance.

Nor is it even beginning to scratch the surface of issues like how under-resourced South is when compared to similar schools in the district, or how many different kinds of deep, generational social inequities exist for the students and families in the surrounding neighborhoods, or how gentrification and structural racism and classicism disproportionately affect (i.e.) enrollment, attendance boundaries, and, of course, the very cultural fabric of the community.

And it certainly doesn’t even begin to address the abysmal, criminally-skewed-toward-the-wealthy school-funding model that’s currently in place.

I’m just going purely on some academic performance indicators that don’t show up in the state report card.

There’s a story about South High School – and about all of our Columbus City Schools – that you’ll never see if you go by the state report card metrics.

When you hear about how students fall through the cracks?

It’s because those cracks are chasms.

In-between each of those F’s and D’s there are hundreds of millions of public school students across this country, grinding like hell to crush the low-expectations that they’re saddled with every day.

And we are failing all of them.

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