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Report card gives tougher grades to area school districts

By Jeremy P. Kelley - Staff Writer

State education officials made a big point of revamping the school report card system this year, but the data released Thursday show some things don’t change — richer, suburban districts like Oakwood and Bellbrook scored highest, and Ohio’s poorer, urban districts continue to struggle.

School districts got new letter grades in nine specific areas based on 2012-13 performance, and Oakwood was the only local district to get an “A” grade across all five largest categories. Oakwood’s performance index was also tops in the area and sixth in the state.

“We’re very proud of those results,” new Oakwood Superintendent Kyle Ramey said. “The students, teachers and principals have worked extremely hard to make those things happen. It’s certainly not easy.”

None of the state’s 610 public school districts got A’s in all nine categories, and none got all F’s. Some of the new categories showed areas where even the best districts struggled, as Oakwood got C’s in two new “value-added” categories.

Those value-added measures show whether students made one year worth of academic progress in one year’s time. Kettering was the only local district, and one of eight statewide, to get an “A” in all four value-added categories.

“It might sound self-serving, but I think value-added is the most important measure,” Kettering Superintendent James Schoenlein said. “That’s the measure of taking a kid from wherever they are and moving them forward. … When you come to Kettering schools, you’re going to make fabulous progress – no matter what your circumstances.”

The state’s new grading system is being phased in gradually, so school districts won’t be labeled with an overall letter grade until 2015. The standards will get tougher in the coming years, and that higher bar was already clear in some areas.

Only three local school districts — Oakwood, Mason and Bellbrook — got an “A” in performance index. Springboro’s index of 106.9 ranked in the top 8 percent of the state, but was only good enough for a B.

The state also used a new federal method of calculating graduation rate, meaning several districts saw their rate sink.

Kevin Kelly, dean of the University of Dayton’s School of Education, argued that the tougher grades present a more accurate picture. Kelly said in 2011, more than half of Ohio’s school districts were rated the equivalent of an A or A+. He said if that were a true measure of student achievement, then a great majority of Ohio’s graduates either would be going to college and graduating on time or getting a post-high-school credential certifying a skill valued in the job market. But in many districts, just a third of students go on to college and graduate in six years.

State Superintendent Richard Ross echoed those concerns, saying some of the descriptions and categories in the old report card system hid areas where students were not doing well.

New, more specific value-added grades measure how much progress is made by both gifted and low-achieving students. Springboro’s overall report card was strong, but the district got a D in advancing its gifted students. Brookville ranks third among Montgomery County districts in performance index, but it got a D in the value-added measure of how its worst 20 percent of students advanced.

“Some of the facts are painful, but I’ve always believed we have to deal with data up-front, openly, honestly,” Ross said. “Many schools and districts will see lower grades than past report card rankings would have led them to believe or expect. But we must have the courage to be honest with ourselves and our communities about where we really stand.”

Large urban school districts struggled in the state report card. Dayton Public Schools ranked fourth-worst in the state in performance index, behind three Cleveland-area districts. Trotwood-Madison schools were also in the bottom 10 statewide. Trotwood got seven F’s on the report card, and Dayton had six.

Dayton Superintendent Lori Ward said her district’s test performance was relatively flat, with the performance index slipping from 75.6 to 75.5. Dayton met two of 24 testing indicators after meeting three last year.

“We knew that the new accountability system would not portray our performance in a positive light,” Ward said. “I’m just like any student, I want to get all A’s.”

But Ward pointed to some positives, saying that of DPS’ 23 schools that house grades 4 to 8, 13 of them met or exceeded state standards for growth. And the district’s graduation rate rose 4 percentage points, to 69.9. Ward said her staff would dig into the value-added data, which districts received Wednesday, to see where gains could be made.

Northridge schools saw one of the biggest declines in test data. The district met only 8 of 24 testing standards after meeting 16 of 26 last year. The district’s performance index fell from 91.6 to 85.2, the largest drop in the area.

Superintendent David Jackson said he is disappointed the district fell back in a few areas and is looking for answers.

“We did have the closure of a building and a complete reconfiguration of the district that caused a good bit of upheaval with students and staff,” Jackson said. “We are ever-dedicated to improving and making gains and meeting the needs of every child, and we look forward to the challenge of this year.”

The Ohio School Boards Association said a statewide look at the school report cards confirmed that income and poverty have a direct correlation to student performance on state tests.

Ninety-one percent of school districts where personal income exceeds the state average, scored an A in the “standards met” category. In districts where income is below the state average, just 41 percent of those districts received an A for meeting state standards.

School districts across the state will be digging into the new data and new requirements this month, trying to improve everything from overall testing, to gifted performance, to working with students with disabilities. Ramey of Oakwood agreed the state standards, which can change from year-to-year, require schools to try to be “everything to everyone.”

“Whether we agree with this data, is it fair or unfair, it is what it is, and we’ll rise to the challenge just as we have in the past,” he said. “We’ll learn about it, and dissect it, and if we find we’re not meeting someone’s needs, we’ll focus our resources where they need to be.”

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