“What can we do to get this thing going the other way?” Linder asked Superintendent George Fisk during the recent board meeting.
From last year, Norwalk slid from a C overall to a D. Several other districts in the Norwalk Reflector readership area — Bellevue, Monroeville, New London, South Central, Western Reserve and Willard — also received Cs. Willard improved from a D to a C.
Though the overall grade for Norwalk doesn’t meet the district’s expectations, Fisk said school officials are encouraged by the progress being made with its kindergarten through third-grade students and graduating seniors.
“Most notably, our continued success to prepare our children to meet the third-grade reading guarantee and our ability to consistently out-perform the state average for graduation rates,” he told the Reflector. “I think we are on the right path.”
While Fisk told the board he believes Norwalk is heading in the right direction, he also wants to see sustainable, long-term improvement.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) gave districts grades for achievement, literacy, graduation rates, among others on an A through F scale — a reflection of last year’s report cards.
For the second-straight year, schools received an overall letter grade on an A to F scale based on results in six performance areas — achievement, progress, graduation rates, gap closing (how well schools are reaching its most vulnerable populations in English, math and graduation), improving at-risk readers in kindergarten to third grade and prepared for success — analyzed from the 2018-19 school year.
Making changes in Norwalk
Fisk, during the board meeting, said “the state raised the bar” from a 75-percent proficiency to 80. The superintendent added the district won’t know until at least February or March if recent changes have had an impact.
With a “drastic increase” of students coming into Norwalk with limited English skills, the district has added two aides and a teacher to work in small groups with those pupils, Fisk said. He also said he has received feedback from teachers who have seen an improvement from those children.
More new features of this year’s report card release include grades about on how well schools are helping non-native speakers learn English, stopping chronic absenteeism, how students perform on retaking state end-of-course exams and more.
Other changes Fisk listed for the school board were providing more professional development time for preschool teachers and a district planning team focused on improving math scores.
Board member John Lendrum said Norwalk will need more help from aides and teaches for students learning English as a second language.
“I don’t see that changing,” he added.
Linder said when the district scored well on report cards — “excellent with distinction” — years ago, “everybody was jumping up and down,” but now he has received calls from parents and voters who are concerned about Norwalk going down a grade. The A through F scale has replaced the previous classifications.
“I’m all about heading the other way,” Linder said, referring to seeing improvement.
Students aren’t ‘standardized’
Fisk and Bellevue City Schools Superintendent Kim Schubert aren’t pleased with how the ODE judges its students. Schubert said receiving a grade of C misrepresents the success students in Bellevue are experiencing.
“Through the state accountability system, our school district has been rated a C, which is not only absurd, it is reckless. … Our kids do not arrive at our door standardized and we will not apologize for not trying to standardize them. Rather, we embrace their differences, value them and educate the whole child,” she told the Sandusky Register.
“(Districts) cannot continue to stand by and allow our schools to be judged by an accountability system that we all know is broken, not to mention tremendously expensive for our taxpayers.”
In Norwalk, Fisk said the district continues to “work toward our goal of preparing the children of Norwalk for life, not politically driven standardized testing” through its STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and career preparation programs.
“We continue to question the validity of a report card system which rewards districts with low levels of economically-disadvantaged children — one based upon proprietary calculations, and a reporting system that is not applied equitably to all K-12 institutions statewide,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tandem Media Network contributed to this story.