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Schools score lower on new state report card, as predicted

8/29/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

The new state school report card developed by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Ohio’s General Assembly, released last week, has shocked many Summit County school districts despite warnings that it would.

The Akron Public Schools (APS) learned that while some ratings were similar to those of the previous state report card, others “have changed dramatically,” said Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams.

Grades were released for only three of the six new components, McWilliams said. The other areas will be phased in gradually by 2015, she said at the APS Board of Education meeting Aug. 26.

The six components are achievement, progress, gap closing, graduation rate, kindergarten through third-grade literacy and preparation for college/career success, she said.

Progress is a value-added category that is broken down by subgroup, she said. The APS earned a D grade overall in progress. While the district’s reading scores have been going up for several years, last year its math scores went down, which “hurts across multiple measures,” she said.

The district has just implemented a new math program, in anticipation of the more rigorous Common Core state standards that are coming, and there is usually a dip in scores with new methods, she said.

The district scored an F on the new annual measurable objectives, a category in which a school or district gets credit for only significant improvements and receives a 0 for any decline, even 0.1 percent, McWilliams said.

The district’s overall 75.9 percent four-year graduation rate was also graded F, and the five-year 82.2 percent graduation rate earned only a D. Board member Lisa Mansfield protested the low grades for these scores.

“Eighty-two percent is not a D to me,” she said. “It’s very difficult to understand these” grades.

Firestone High School’s five-year graduation rate earned an A and its four-year rate a B, while Akron Early College received an A in both categories.

Other good news came in career education, which earned As in both four- and five-year graduation and a B for its post-program placement rate.

McWilliams said many Summit County districts received Fs, Ds and Cs that have never received such low grades before. Last spring, she said, the ODE did test simulations and warned that Ohio school districts would drop one to two rating levels on the new report cards.

Akron is still No. 1 in the “Big 8” urban districts in Ohio, she said, having scored higher overall than the other large urban districts.

Board member the Rev. Curtis Walker observed that Gov. John Kasich’s new state budget “gives more money for vouchers, more money for low-achieving charter schools, while taking money from preschool, Head Start and other proven programs that help children.”

He said that by changing standards and taking away money that helps prepare children for school, especially ones in poverty, “the state is telling us to make bricks without straw.”

McWilliams noted that many of the measures on the new report card are not being counted in charter schools, a system that is “inherently unfair.”

Summit County has effective programs that help young learners, like Head Start and SPARK, programs that need to be expanded, she said.

“The funding has to catch up with our will in this county,” she said.

Board President Jason Haas said the district will work with the new system, although the report card is not standardized and the state didn’t control factors, like poverty, that have major effects on the results of standardized tests.

“We welcome accountability, try to be accountable, but they’ve given us a statistical mess. But we won’t rest until we get better,” he said.

Haas also noted that school started this week and welcomed back students and staff for a successful school year.

The board voted to endorse the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADM) Board’s 2.95-mill levy, which will be on the Nov. 5 ballot. It is a renewal levy for the ADM board, not a new tax.

The board’s next meeting is set for Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St. in Downtown Akron.

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