Oct 15, 2021 - COVID
COVID's impact on Ohio education
An Illustration of a virus on a school paper.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Ohio's K-12 school report cards were released Thursday, shining a spotlight on pandemic-related challenges that include spiking absenteeism and a significant drop in statewide test scores.

Why it matters: The state's annual reports provide families and taxpayers a snapshot of their district's academic achievement, spending and demographic data, while also shaping instructional decisions.

  • Having baseline data is especially important for helping struggling students.

What's happening: A striking 24% of Ohio's students were chronically absent in 2020-21 academic year, defined as missing more than 18 days of school, or 10% of the year. The figure is a 7.3% increase from the 2018-19, the most recent data available.

  • The issue is more pronounced among economically disadvantaged students (38%).
  • In Columbus City Schools, nearly 75% of students were chronically absent.

Quick take: The data accompanying the report cards includes other takeaways.

  • The Class of 2020's four-year graduation rate was 87.2%, up from the Class of 2019's 85.9%, though 2020 graduates were given some flexibility.
  • Just three Franklin County districts — Groveport Madison (80.7%), Columbus (81.2%) and Whitehall (84.3%) — were below the state average and local rates were fairly comparable to 2019.
  • The statewide performance index, which measures overall student achievement on state assessments, declined from 84.7 to 72.5 between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Yes, but: The state notes that not all students took assessments in the spring, especially vulnerable students, which could impact results.

The big picture: While proponents say report cards hold districts accountable, critics say they're misleading, overly simplistic and mostly reflect factors like poverty. And that can have serious consequences.

  • Typically, low-performing districts are subject to a state takeover if they consistently fail to meet certain thresholds.
  • Students are eligible for tuition vouchers for private school if they live near a low-performing school, a hotly debated issue.
  • Report cards won't be used punitively this year, though, nor were they in 2020.

What's next: The state will overhaul its report card system yet again before 2022, including switching to a 1-5 "star" scale rather than A-F grades, which haven't been used the past two years anyway.

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