- Jeremy P. Kelley Staff Writer
Local schools claimed the very best scores in Ohio in one category and the very worst in two others Thursday, as the annual state report cards triggered debate over school quality.
Oakwood was the No. 1 district in Ohio in the “Prepared for Success” category, which tries to measure how well-prepared students are for the future.
Trotwood-Madison schools ranked last of Ohio’s 608 school districts in performance index, the most detailed measure of state test performance. Dayton was second-worst. Tiny Jefferson Twp. schools ranked last in the state in four-year graduation rate, at 50 percent. No other district in Ohio was below 65 percent.
State school Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said the biggest takeaway from a statewide level is that scores and achievement improved from last year in nearly every grade and subject.
“That’s very gratifying and a great indication that the things we want to happen are happening,” DeMaria said Thursday, pointing out that after years of change, students used the same test platform two years in a row. “Some of it is this phenomenon that whenever there is a new test, it does take a while to get acclimated.”
These report cards are largely based on state exams that students took in spring 2017. Schools and districts did not receive an overall grade on this year’s report card, instead getting six component grades on things like graduation rate, test achievement and literacy improvement for young students.
Oakwood was No. 1 in “Prepared for Success,” which tracks ACT/SAT scores, honors diplomas, industry credentials and participation in college credit-bearing programs. The district was also No. 5 in the state in performance index and one of 13 districts to earn an “A” in Achievement.
“Our vision is to make sure that our students are prepared, are poised to lead and to be ethical decision makers,” Oakwood High School Principal Paul Waller said Thursday. “We have a wonderful core curriculum and a large variety of Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses … We want to give all of our kids an opportunity to be successful where their interests are.”
Several of the area’s large suburban districts got C’s in Achievement for their test performance, but A’s for showing strong student growth year-over-year. That group included Centerville, Beavercreek, Miamisburg and Northmont. Springboro and Waynesville were the only core Dayton-area districts to earn an “A” in growth and a “B” in Achievement.
The Yellow Springs and Covington school districts were among only 12 school districts statewide to score a perfect 100 percent in both graduation rates – the four-year measure for the Class of 2016 and the five-year score for 2015. For Covington, an 800-student district just northwest of Troy, it marked the second year in a row that both graduation rates were 100 percent.
Wayne Local Schools in Waynesville ranked No. 3 in the state in K-3 Literacy Improvement, a key area of focus under Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee. Waynesville got 88 percent of its struggling readers back on track to proficiency between kindergarten and third grade.
Trotwood-Madison’s 45.9 percent score in performance index was the lowest in the state, with Dayton’s 47.6 percent the second-worst. Both schools were in the state’s bottom five last year, but not worst.
Only six other school districts scored below 50 percent this year (an “F” grade), including Youngstown and Cleveland. Jefferson Twp. and Northridge also fell in the bottom 25 districts in the state.
Trotwood Superintendent Kevin Bell said this year’s results mean Trotwood could be at risk of state takeover as soon as summer 2018 if results from next spring’s state tests don’t improve.
“I’m a little bit surprised that the performance turned out where it is,” Bell said. “I’ve seen some of the efforts that have happened instructionally in our classrooms, I know our teachers work really hard. … I think there was a belief that we were making greater progress with student learning than the test results showed.”
Jefferson Twp. ranked last in the state in four-year graduation rate, at 50 percent. Springfield was at 66 percent, and Dayton was at 72 percent, down slightly from last year’s 75 percent. The graduation rates are reported on a one-year lag, so the four-year rate measures students who would have normally been in the class of 2016.
Jefferson Twp. is one of the state’s smallest school districts, with just over 400 students from K-12. The district’s five-year graduation rate, tracking the class of 2015, was much higher at 86 percent.
Last year, Dayton Public Schools celebrated a crucial “A” in overall student growth. This year, that Progress grade was back down to an “D”. DPS’ graduation rate declined, but performance index and K-3 literacy improvement were up slightly. Dayton was the only school district in the region where all six component grades were Ds or Fs.
Superintendent Rhonda Corr said DPS is not where they want to be, but she ran through a litany of ongoing changes – new textbooks, better-aligned curriculum, better on-time busing, more educational technology – that she said will deliver results in the short-term and as part of a 3-5 year turnaround.
“The expectation for next year is that we will be much higher because we’ve put so many things in place that will help children succeed and give teachers the resources they need,” Corr said.
Education analysts have long pointed to the correlation between poverty and poor test performance, arguing that school quality may not be the primary factor in the scores. Most of the districts that struggled on this report card are in low-income areas.
DeMaria pointed out that for the first time this year, each district was given the ability to link from their report card to a document of their own that goes beyond report card data.
“There’s more to the story of what’s happening in schools and districts than simply the (report card data) that’s coming out today,” DeMaria said. “I’m not diminishing the importance of this information, but you have to look at it in context and balance it with other information from schools, teachers, other parents.”