CINCINNATI -- Ohio's third attempt in as many years at finding a good test to show how schools are performing went over like cold mystery meat in the cafeteria.
The state report card, released Thursday, showed that grades fell in 600 of Ohio's 608 school districts compared to a year ago.
That result compounds educators'; long-standing complaints about shifting standards, shifting tests and a lack of consistency getting in the way of teaching students effectively and having that achievement reflect in test scores.
"I would give the state an F on its report card," Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan said.
CPS received four Fs and two Ds on its state report card, which didn't reflect the district's progress in graduation rates, ACT scores and other measures, she said.
"The confusing part is grades dropped even though overall progress occurred," Ronan said.
Complaints throughout southwest Ohio
Suburban districts joined CPS in the criticism.
"The state report card for the West Clermont Schools is not an accurate representation of the quality of education our students are receiving," said West Clermont district spokesman Scott Spicher.
Ohio has used tests from three different companies in three years, starting with the Ohio Achievement Test before switching to the universally panned PARCC test; and last year, to the AIR test, administered by the same company that creates the ACT.
All the while, the state has been moving minimum scores up each year to achieve each letter grade.
The state needed 32 pages to explain the grading system.
Quantity did not equal quality for Norwood Superintendent Rob Amodio.
"The current report card and assessment paradigm is an abysmal reflection on our district and any other district in the state. There is no way to reflect in the report card how well my staff does in helping countless students with societal and personal challenges," he said. "The report card is simply a snapshot of one test and one day out of 183 school days."
Moving target hard to hit
Pivoting to prepare for the new tests has confounded teachers and school districts.
"Three Rivers (Local School District) embraces accountability because it makes us better, but with three different tests in the last three years, it has been challenging," Superintendent Craig Hockenberry said.
Raising minimum requirements for passing grades each year has translated to districts receiving no credit for big improvements.
Cincinnati Public has seen its graduation rate rise to 73 percent from 63 percent four years ago. But it still received an F for graduations.
Lakota, which received two As, two Cs and two Fs, pointed out the F it received in K-3 literacy despite 99.4 percent of its third graders passing the state reading and writing test.
That's because the state based the literacy grade solely on the progress of students in grades K-3 who are “off track” in their reading, without regard to how many students are “on track, according to the district.
“We aren’t alone in our disappointment of these results, but that doesn’t make the results any easier to swallow," Lakota acting Superintendent Robb Vogelmann said.
Ohio counsels patience
State officials acknowledge the challenge of adapting to different tests.
"This year’s report cards and the grades we’re seeing reflect a system in transition," Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria said. “They reflect new tests, higher achievement targets and more challenging expectations. Improvement is happening, and with time, it will begin to show on the report cards."
District leaders begged for consistency going forward.
"We're hoping that the state sticks with the AIR test so that our teachers aren't asking what we should teach and students aren't asking what they should be learning," Ronan said. "We know when there is stability in the standards and tests, our achievement improves."
Three Rivers's Hockenberry struck an optimistic note about the latest test, which will be administered for a second year in a row in spring: "It looks like the state has finally found a common North Star."