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New school report cards released

8/29/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

GREATER AKRON — The state released its new take on school achievement with its annual report cards Aug. 22.

Gone are the overall ratings of Excellent or Continuous Improvement, replaced with letter grades on certain areas measuring achievement. The revamped report cards assign A through F letter grades to schools in nine different categories, which range from graduation rates to achievement gaps to student performance on state tests.

Districts and schools will not receive overall letter grades until 2015, according to officials at the Ohio School Boards Association, who added the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is still developing how the scores will be calculated.

Many districts over the past few years have touted their schools’ or districts’ overall ranking, but that’s something that can’t be done until the state calculates the overall grade in two years, some local school officials said.

“We’ve been cautioned by the state to not combine these into one overall grade,” said Brian Poe, superintendent of Copley-Fairlawn City Schools.

Poe said he plans to work with his district’s PTAs to provide specific, easy-to-understand information to parents about how to interpret the district’s grades.

Poe and other superintendents, who had been told over the past two years that they could see some surprises with the new system, said they don’t think the new format is easier to understand.

“This is one of those things that’s going to look like it’s simpler, but if you really want to understand it, you will have to take time to dig down and see what the letters mean,” said Norton City Schools Superintendent David Dunn. “It used to be that people simply looked at your rating of Excellent or Excellent With Distinction and kind of understood that students were achieving well and progressing well. [The new format is] a dashboard of points that will take the public and school officials a while to sort through.”

Akron Public Schools (APS) Superintendent David James said in a press release that school officials there are concerned with the changing academic performance standards that drive districts to devote large amounts of time to figuring out new rules and regulations and how to implement them. Often, as soon as they do, standards again change and the process begins again, he said.

“We appreciate that the bar continues to be set higher for educators,” James said. “It does, however, take time with each change to make the necessary adjustments. I believe this year’s results reflect that for most districts. Next year, we might see more positive changes in the numbers as districts become more acclimated.”

The nine points schools were ranked on were Achievement, Performance Index (how many students passed state tests) and Indicators Met (how students did on the state tests); Gap Closing (how well students are doing in reading, math and graduation rates with regard to income, race, culture or disability); Value-Added Progress (looking at how much progress students in grades four through eight made in one year) in categories of Overall, Gifted, Lowest 20 Percent in Achievement and Students with Disabilities; and Graduation Rate (with scores for the percentage of ninth grade students who graduate in four years and five years).

Here’s the rundown on how local districts fared and comments from district officials.

  • APS: Among Ohio’s eight urban school districts, APS fared about average, with Cs for Performance Index and the Value Added categories of Gifted and Disabilities; Ds for the Value Added categories of Overall, Lowest 20 Percent and Five-Year Graduation Rate; and Fs for Indicators Met, Gap Closing and Four-Year Graduation Rate.
    District officials said they did see gains in reading scores but lower scores in math. They attributed that to implementation of a more rigorous math curriculum that the state will require starting next year.
    “At APS, we wanted to be forward-thinking because it seems we are constantly prepping our students for new assessments,” Superintendent David James said. “While this current report card actually tested on the easier, current standards, our students were already on the more rigorous math curriculum, and their test scores reflect that.”
    Officials said if the same measuring system and labels as last year were applied, and not a letter grade, the district’s Performance Index would still rate as Continuous Improvement, as it did last year.
  • Copley-Fairlawn City Schools: The district earned As in Indicators Met, and Value Added in Overall, Lowest 20 Percent and Students with Disabilities, and in Four-Year and Five-Year Graduation Rates. It received Bs in the Performance Index and Gap Closing and a C on Value Added for Gifted students.
    “We’re very pleased overall with how well we fared on the state report card,” Poe said. “Sometimes our tendency is to immediately go to those areas where we need to work, but we want to take a little time to celebrate.”
    He added he was very happy to see the district’s Performance Index score rise for the third year in a row.
    “We’ve asked our teachers to do a lot, and I’ve been pleased how they’ve taken an already outstanding academic environment and have stepped up the achievement here,” Poe said.
    The district’s score for Gifted is something that Poe said is a challenge.
    “We’re continuing to look at ways to work with our gifted students,” he said. “It’s difficult to continue to move them up.”
  • Highland Local Schools: Highland earned As in Indicators Met and its Four-Year and Five-Year Graduation Rates. It received Bs in Performance Index, Gap Closing, and in Value Added categories of Overall, Lowest 20 Percent and Students with Disabilities; and an F in Value Added for Gifted students.
    In a statement, Highland Superintendent Catherine Auckerman expressed concern and frustration with the latter ranking.
    “At Highland, 32.6 percent of our students are identified as gifted and talented and score at accelerated and advanced levels on state tests,” she said. “While there is always room for improvement, we believe that an F letter grade in this category is not an accurate portrayal of this group’s performance. When we talk about moving those highest performers to even higher levels within the highest accelerated category, it is extremely difficult to show substantial growth. Because they are already at the top, there is a much tighter margin for improvement.”
    She added the district earned the highest student achievement scores in Medina County in third-grade reading, fourth-grade math, fifth-grade science, seventh-grade math, eighth-grade reading and 10th-grade reading, math, social studies and science, as well as the county’s highest average ACT scores, Performance Index, Graduation Rate and Attendance Rate.
  • Norton City Schools: The district received As in Indicators Met, Value Added categories of Overall and Students with Disabilities and Four-Year Graduation Rate. The district earned Bs in Performance Index and the Five-Year Graduation Rate; Cs in Value Added categories of Gifted and Lowest 20 Percent; and a D in Gap Closing.
    “We’re all pleased with those scores and feel good that it’s recognition that students in Norton are achieving at a high level,” Dunn said.
    The district’s D in Gap Closing is a concern, he added, although he notes the score just missed a C.
    “Our focus needs to be on finding ways to do a better job reaching those students that aren’t performing well in Norton,” Dunn said.
  • Revere Local Schools: The district earned As in Indicators Met, Value Added category of Overall, and Four-Year and Five-Year Graduation Rates; Bs in Performance Index, Gap Closing and the Value Added category of Gifted; and Cs in the Value Added categories of Lowest 20 Percent and Students with Disabilities.
    “The Revere Schools continue to excel on the report card, despite changing accountability standards,” said Superintendent Randy Boroff in a press release. “We will continue to provide an excellent education for our students as evidenced by this measurement tool and others, including Advanced Placement tests and ACT and SAT scores. Based on our successes and the support of the community, Revere students are well equipped to meet the challenges of higher expectations.”
    Boroff added that strategies are currently in place to improve measured progress for Revere students with disabilities and others with low scores in math and reading.
  • Woodridge Local Schools: The district earned As in the Value Added category of Overall and Four-Year and Five-Year Graduation Rates. It received Bs in Performance Index and Indicators Met; Cs in Value Added categories of Gifted, Lowest 20 Percent and Students with Disabilities; and an F in Gap Closing.
    Superintendent Walter Davis said in a statement that district officials anticipated the scores it received.
    “We are pleased that our Value Added results indicate that our students are making progress overall — with the overall group of students making at least one year’s growth,” Davis said. “Obviously, our concerns rest in the area of ‘annual measurable objectives,’ which indicates certain subgroups of students are not achieving at the same levels as their peers. Clearly, we have much work to do to improve in this area.”
    He added the district is implementing a diversity initiative this school year to focus on students in some subgroups.

For more information, and to see individual school rankings, go to reportcard.education.ohio.gov.

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