Safe Harbor Guidance

What is Safe Harbor?

The General Assembly directed the Ohio Department of Education to transition to new state tests in mathematics and English language arts for the 2014-2015 school year. To give schools, teachers and students time to adjust, new Ohio law suspends many of the consequences of the tests for the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Safe Harbor for School Districts

School officials might find it helpful to communicate with parents about safe harbor as meaning “no impact.” School districts can become eligible for certain programs or interventions based on their report card performance. Safe harbor – or no impact – for school districts means the following programs or interventions will be suspended:

Challenged School District Designation

When the state designates a school district as “challenged,” new startup community schools can open within the district’s boundaries. Safe harbor means the state will designate no new school districts as challenged until it releases the 2018 report cards. 

Educational Choice Scholarship Program

Students attending persistently poor performing schools can become eligible for vouchers to pay the costs of attending private schools. Safe harbor means Ohio will include no new public school buildings in the program until the 2019-2020 school year. 

Academic Distress Commissions

Ohio forms these commissions to help improve a school district after three consecutive years of poor results on its report cards. The 2016 report cards and report cards thereafter count toward the three consecutive years for the formation of new academic distress commissions, and safe harbor does not apply to the existing academic distress commissions.

Community School Closure

The majority of community schools receive the same traditional report cards as other public schools. Community schools can be closed by law for continued poor performance. That said, Ohio’s current safe harbor provisions say the state will not use grades published on the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 report cards to judge whether it will close a school. 

School Restructuring

When traditional public schools receive low report card grades, there are several laws that require them to restructure or even close. Safe harbor means that no new school buildings will be required to restructure because of state law based on the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 report cards. However, there are restructuring requirements included in federal law that are not covered by Ohio’s safe harbor provisions. This state portion of restructuring affects only a few schools.

Safe Harbor for Students

Schools and districts may not use test results during the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years to grant credits to students or to promote or deny students’ promotion to higher grade levels, except in the cases of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and graduation requirements. Test vendors can release a student’s test score reports only to the school district, the student and the student’s parent or guardian.

Schools must still retain in third grade a child who does not meet the “promotion score” on Ohio’s grade three English language arts test. Some students may be exempted from this requirement. Exemption information is on the department’s website at, search Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

The graduating classes of 2018 and after are taking end-of-course tests to earn graduation points. A student’s performance on these tests will impact a student’s graduation. However, safe harbor allows any student to retake any end-of-course tests. Students also have other options to earn high school diplomas.

Safe Harbor for Teachers and Principals

Student growth makes up a significant portion of an evaluation for teachers and principals. State tests are one of the ways to calculate this student growth. Because of the transition to new state tests, the General Assembly extended and modified the safe harbor for a small group of educators.

Due to the transition of new assessments, teachers and principals will not use value-added ratings from state tests for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years as part of their evaluations or when making decisions regarding dismissal, retention, tenure or compensation.

Safe harbor only applies to educators who use value-added ratings from state tests. Safe harbor does not apply to teachers or principals exclusively using vendor tests or other local student growth measures. More than 90 percent of teachers will fully implement the evaluation system with student growth measures in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Value-added ratings will continue to be generated for state tests so that these educators can benefit from the diagnostic reports. Teachers and principals will not use value-added results for evaluation until results from the state tests administered in the 2016-2017 school year are incorporated into the evaluation ratings in the spring of 2018.

Districts have three options for addressing the student growth measure for any of their teachers or principals who use state value-added results: 

  1. Districts and educators may enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to allow the continued use of value-added results based on state tests for evaluation; 
  2. Districts may decide to use student growth measures other than value-added results for evaluations, including approved vendor assessments and student learning objectives (SLOs), to replace value-added results from state tests; or
  3. Districts may choose not to use or replace value-added results from 2014-2015 or 2015-2016 and:
    1. For educators exclusively using value-added results from state tests, only use the educator performance measure to determine the overall evaluation rating; or
    2. For educators in districts that do not have memoranda of understanding permitting the use of value-added data during 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the district may choose to use 2013-2014 value-added rating for their A-1 teachers only, so that they can remain on the less frequent evaluation cycle, or
    3. For educators partially using value-added results from state tests, only include the remaining student growth measures and the educator performance measure to determine the overall evaluation rating.

The department encourages districts to utilize an option that includes student growth for the evaluation and to analyze the value-added results for diagnostic purposes during these safe harbor years.

See more information on recent changes to the teacher evaluation system on the teacher evaluation Web pages. Address questions about safe harbor to

Last Modified: 9/27/2016 11:12:49 AM