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New school report cards released

8/29/2013 - South 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.

Manchester Local Schools Superintendent Sam Reynolds said much of the information used in formulating the new grading system is good, but he’s not sure the evaluation system has been made any easier to understand, as state officials had said they wanted to do.

“I think it’s confusing,” Reynolds said. “It’s easy to find the grade, and if people go online it provides the necessary information and you can follow up on it. What the problem is, is the data is good, but there’s so much that a person who really would want to know the facts about the school would have to study the website in depth.”

He added that parents’ busy schedules make it hard for them to do that.

Norton City Schools Superintendent David Dunn agrees.

“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,” Dunn said. “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.”

The nine points schools were ranked on were Achievement, in 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 when available.

  • Akron Public Schools (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.
  • Coventry Local Schools: The district earned As in the Value Added category of Overall and in its Four-Year and Five-Year Graduation Rates. It received Bs in Performance Index, Indicators Met and Value Added for Students with Disabilities; Cs in Gap Closing and the Value Added category of the Lowest 20 Percent; and an F in the Value Added category of Gifted.
    “We look at really two areas we think are the most important, and the first is Value Added: Are our kids getting the bang for their buck with a year’s growth?” Superintendent Rusty Chaboudy said. “We’re especially happy because we got an A on that, and looking at graduation rates, we got As there, and we’re proud of that.”
    He said the district’s grade in serving gifted students was disappointing.
    “… The state has cut all kinds of funding for gifted,” he said. “We want to provide them services, which we do on a minimal basis, but it directly relates to the amount of money and time and effort you put into programs.
    “We’re going to take what this report card is and digest it and work on the areas we need to improve on,” he added.
  • Green Local Schools: The district earned As in Indicators Met, Value Added categories of Overall and Gifted, and the Four-Year and Five-Year Graduate Rate. It received Bs in Performance Index, Gap Closing and an F in the Value Added category of Lowest 20 Percent.
    Superintendent Jeffrey Miller did not return a phone call by presstime.
  • Manchester Local Schools: The district earned As in Indicators Met and the Four-Year Graduation Rate. It received Bs in Performance Index, Gap Closing, Value Added category of Gifted and Five-Year Graduation Rate; a C in Value Added category for the Lowest 20 Percent; and Fs in Value Added categories of Overall and Students with Disabilities.
    Reynolds said he spoke with staff this week about the scores and focused on the positive aspects of the school’s scores.
    “We passed all 24 indicators at an 80 percent or above level, so that is a measure of our children learning the standards of their grade level, so I’m pleased with that,” he said. “The data is showing that 81 percent of third-grade students performed at an advanced or accelerated level on the third grade reading test, so I’m happy about that. I’m also happy about the graduation rate, which has increased over the years.”
    He said he was upset to see some of the lower scores the district received in the Value Added category.
    “I think it’s a limited mathematical calculation that was never meant to grade a school on,” Reynolds said.
    The superintendent said the district is getting to work to address what it needs to do to raise its grades.
    “We’ll decide where we need to make changes, and we’ll set goals to do that,” he said.
  • 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.
  • Springfield Local Schools: The district earned As in the Value Added category of Overall and Four-Year Graduation Rate. It received a B in the Value Added category for Students with Disabilities; Cs in Performance Index, Indicators Met, Value Added categories of Gifted and Lowest 20 Percent, and Five-Year Graduation rate; and an F in Gap Closing.
    In a statement on the district website, Superintendent William Stauffer commented on the report card.
    “We are working very hard to improve and get better,” he wrote. “I am proud to say that our district received an A grade for Progress (Value Added category of Overall). This is our district’s average progress for students in math and reading [in] grades 4-8. It is a reflection on how much a student learns in a year. If we were using the same rating system as had been used in previous years, the Springfield Local Schools would once again be rated Excellent.”     

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

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