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A's and F's - Local districts get good and bad grades

Cary Ashby • Updated Sep 15, 2017 at 1:20 AM

When it comes to the state report cards, which were released Thursday, an education researcher said “an annual assessment of what students know and can do remains key to a healthy school system.”

“This year’s data are promising and indicate that an increasing number of students are rising to the challenge and meeting Ohio’s higher achievement standards,” said Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a prepared statement.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is the nation's leader in advancing educational excellence for every child through quality research, analysis and commentary, as well as on-the-ground action and advocacy in Ohio.

Among the categories on the report card, the Ohio Department of Education assigns ratings on value-added measures. That is a poverty-neutral indicator of schools’ impact on student growth over time, accounting for incoming achievement levels.

“If a district earns an A in this category, which Monroeville did, it indicates that students are making more than expected academic progress. If this continues, the district will eventually reach all of the other state indicators leading to higher district grade-card performance. I believe Monroeville is presently on that path,” Superintendent Ralph Moore said.

Churchill said the increasing number of report card metrics in Ohio “can obscure the gains students are making.”

“Ohio’s value-added measure can help as parents and communities look for quality schools, both district and charter, that have positive impacts on student learning,” the education researcher added.

Good news

First, the good news — mostly — for the nine school districts in the Reflector’s coverage area.

Five school systems — Bellevue, Edison, Monroeville, South Central and Western Reserve — received an “A” on the overall value-added category, which shows if a student gained one year of academic growth. Plymouth-Shiloh earned a “B” while New London, Norwalk and Willard got “F’s.”

“We are focused on the improvement process and making the necessary adjustment to improve for long-term success. Our improvement on 17 of the 23 indicators shows that together we are moving our district in the right direction,” Norwalk City Schools Superintendent George Fisk said.

“The report card does not show that we have invested in becoming a leader in STEM education through our investment in the (Norwalk Middle School) Creation Station and (Norwalk High School) MakerSpace. We also invested in new (kindergarten through fourth grade) literacy programs to improve our programming with our youngest leaners while also creating a K through 12 writing rubric to bring continuity to our writing process for all students,” he added.

While Edison Local Schools received an “A” on the overall value-added category, Superintendent Tom Roth said the district needs to continue to prepare students for the future and “focus on the needs of our students.”

“I think that our community needs to know that Edison either maintained or raised our grade in every area of the report card. We also were able to meet more indicators than we did last year, even with the state raising the scores on all of the tests in order to meet the indicators. I also think that it is important for everyone to know that we were able to raise our grade in the Closing the Gap component from an ‘F’ to a ‘B,’” he added.

Bellevue City Schools Superintendent Kim Schubert said the district “increased or maintained our scores in five out of six components” on the state report card.

“Our focus on standards-based teaching, learning and assessment is clearly paying off. I am proud of our staff and students,” she added.

Graduation rates

Seven of the nine local school districts earned an “A” on the four-year graduation rate. Monroeville and Willard each had a “B.”

“Monroeville has always had a high graduation rate. With a diploma in hand, students have the ticket necessary, enabling them to work toward their career and education goals. This is where the rubber meats the road for a district,” Moore said.

In the five-year graduation rate, six local schools received an “A.” New London, Western Reserve and Willard each earned a “B.” 

“The biggest takeaway is that the report card doesn't accurately reflect the quality of education New London Local Schools offers to our students. There are many programs, successes and non-report card indicators that demonstrate the strengths of our district,” Superintendent Brad Romano said.

“The state report card doesn't reflect the quality of education we provide for our students. New London Local Schools has a staff of caring and dedicated people (who) are committed to the success of every student. We have a commitment to technology integration, problem-based learning, character development of all students and enrichment activities for all learners,” he added.

Bad news

Now, the bad news for local schools. Eight of the nine districts received an “F” for its indicators met category; Edison Local Schools earned a “D.” This classification shows if students met the 80-percent proficiency mark set by the ODE.

Despite the “D” grade, Roth said “we felt good about it.”

Edison passed 17 of the indicators this year compared to 15 last year.

Roth said residents should know that the report card doesn’t “reflect all of the initiatives that are going on at Edison on a daily basis outside of the realm of academics.”

“We are working with our students and families to make our students well-rounded individuals who will become outstanding citizens and employees when they become adults,” he added.

The ODE grades schools on a performance index, a weighted measure of proficiency which is based on a complicated mathematical equation about the percentage of students who took all the various state tests.

Five districts — Bellevue, Norwalk, Plymouth-Shiloh, South Central and Western Reserve — received a “C.” Monroeville, New London and Willard earned “Ds” and Edison was graded at a “B.”

“We have been focused on the state standards,” Roth said, when asked about Edison’s grade on a performance index. “I’m sure everyone else is too; we’re not alone in that.”

Final thoughts

Moore said the state report card doesn’t reflect a district atmosphere, environment or safety and doesn’t show how caring the staff members or community are.

“It does not show the level of volunteerism, commitment and support community members demonstrate each and every day. Finally, it doesn’t provide a common measure where all schools — public, private and charter — can be compared side by side. Currently it is impossible to make that comparison objectively,” the Monroeville superintendent added.

Before Fisk became a superintendent, he taught fourth grade for three years and eighth grade for seven years.

“During my years as a teacher, I constantly analyzed my teaching based upon assessments that my students completed. If I taught a lesson and the students performed poorly on the assessment, I looked internally to discover how I could better teach the lesson,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the legislature in Columbus has taken this approach in a different direction,” Fisk added.

“Instead of recognizing that the vast majority of the school districts in the state are struggling under the increasing unfunded mandates and needs of our students, they choose to continue to support corporate-backed testing and our unconstitutional funding mechanism. If the legislature was truly invested in improving public education, they would find a way to level the playing field so that all school districts had the resources necessary to properly educate their diverse communities. Continuing to expect communities to find the resources to accomplish this on their own is a travesty for all the children of Ohio.”

Schubert was asked what the the state report card doesn’t reflect about what’s happening in Bellevue.

“We released our district quality profile this week, which gives our community members a true picture of all of the wonderful programs we offer and all of the great things happening in our district,” she said.

The Bellevue City Schools quality profile can be accessed at www.bellevueschools.org

“The quality profile is a much more accurate depiction of what is happening in our schools than the local report card which is a one test, one day picture with ever-changing expectations,” Schubert said.

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