State Voucher Program Targets Solon School For 'Underperforming'

The state's EdChoice program provides vouchers for families who wish to send their children to private schools.

By Chris Mosby, Patch Staff

SOLON, OH — The Ohio Department of Education's controversial EdChoice program expanded this month, adding one Solon school to its voucher-eligible list. The program offers vouchers to private schools to families in districts with under-performing public schools, as designated by the state.

The state added Parkside Elementary to its EdChoice eligible list. The addition comes despite Parkside's strong performance index score, 114.9, the fifth highest score in the state.

If the school is out-performing nearly every other elementary school in Ohio, how did it end up on the state's EdChoice eligible list, which targets under-performing public schools? A Solon Schools spokesperson said Parkside is a victim of its own success.

"Parkside's third grade is the highest achieving grade level in the entire district. Those students then need to equal or better their scores the following year in fourth grade to demonstrate positive academic growth [to the state]," the spokesperson told Patch.

"For example, in math, 20.6 percent of third graders at Parkside earned perfect scores on the spring 2018 Ohio Achievement Assessment. In spring 2019, 10.6 percent of Parkside fourth graders scored perfect. According to the state's Value-Added measure, that is negative growth," the spokesperson said.

To the state, this qualifies as "under-performing.

On the state's EdChoice website, it says schools are eligible for addition to the voucher-qualified list if, "any of the following is true for two report cards from 2014, 2018 and 2019: The school received a Performance Index grade of D or F and a Value-Added (overall) grade of D or F on the 2014 Report Card or, the school received an overall grade of D or F or a Value-Added (overall) grade of F on the 2018 or 2019 report card."

"This challenge will continue as 100 percent of Parkside third graders passed this past spring's math state assessment, with 89.9 percent of them scoring in the advanced range," the spokesperson said.

District officials have been working with the Ohio Department of Education on this quandary, and how to grapple with high-achieving third graders.

"Our staff is not shying away from this challenge. We continue to implement more targeted classroom strategies, such as individualized interventions and enrichment lessons, to bolster students' learning in reading, writing and math so that the expected academic progress they demonstrate over the course of a school year meets or exceeds their very high level of achievement," the spokesperson said.

With the EdChoice list nearly doubling in size in 2019, school districts across Ohio have expressed confusion and dismay at seeing their schools added to the voucher-eligible list. A Shaker Heights Schools spokesperson said they were "perplexed" by the state's metrics for identifying under-performing schools.

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