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New state reports cards considered not representative of local districts

LAKE AREA– All Lake Area school superintendents agree this year’s Ohio School Report Cards do not reflect their districts’ achievements or efforts accurately. The annual reports cards, released this month, were particularly brutal in their assessment of Lake Area schools, as they were of the majority of Ohio school districts.

Districts and schools were graded on six components for the 2015-2016 school year: Achievement, Progress, Gap Closing, Graduation Rate, K-3 Literacy and Prepared for Success. While the department has given letter grades on most of the individual measures within the components for several years, new this year are letter grades on each of the six components.

“Ohio has raised expectations for students to reflect what is necessary for them to be successful in college, careers and life. This year’s report cards and the grades we’re seeing reflect a system in transition,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria. “They reflect new tests, higher achievement targets and more challenging expectations. Improvement is happening, and with time, it will begin to show on the report cards.”

DeMaria cautioned against clinging to the report cards as “gospel.” He said, even for some schools that are slowly improving, “It doesn’t always show up on the report cards.”

“There are many ways that parents and communities gauge the success and improvement of schools and districts — the report card is one of them,” DeMaria said. “At the same time, we know schools and districts will use these report cards to have discussions about performance and make decisions about instruction and improvement strategies.”

Report Card Components

Achievement indicates how well all students performed on state achievement tests.

Gap Closing shows whether schools and districts are closing historic gaps in academic achievement between specific groups of students, such as those who are economically disadvantaged compared to students as a whole.

K- 3 Literacy indicates whether students who are struggling to read at the beginning of kindergarten through grade 3 are improving to grade-level reading by the beginning of the next grade. It tells whether a school or district’s youngest students are building the essential reading skills they’ll need to keep learning and achieving throughout their school careers.

Progress shows whether students in grades 4-8 and those taking high school end-of-course tests made the expected year’s-worth of progress in math and reading during the school year.

Graduation Rate reveals the percentage of students in a school or district that graduated in four years and in five years.

Prepared for Success shows how well a school and district’s students will be prepared for success after high school.

Walnut Township Schools

Achievement- D
Gap Closing- F
K-3 Literacy- D
Progress- D
Graduation Rate- B
Prepared for Success- D

Superintendent Randy Cotner said this year’s results should definitely be taken with a grain of salt and do not accurately reflect what Walnut Township Schools are achieving. “We are being judged on one-day snapshot tests that are being continually changed and have become moving targets for schools,” he said, adding the tests are even given in two different methods—paper and pencil or on-line. “If you look at our results over the last several years we have performed quite well,” Cotner said. “Given time, if the Ohio Department of Education and State Legislature will leave the tests alone and not change them in a year or two, we, and all other districts, will perform well.”

Cotner said staff would continue to analyze data and make adjustments to improve the district’s scores. “The test results will upset our entire staff,” he said. “We have quality teachers who take their profession seriously. They care about our students and the education we are providing them. I will tell them to keep their heads up and continue to analyze their data.”

Liberty Union-Thurston Schools

Achievement- D

Gap Closing- F
K-3 Literacy- F
Progress- C
Graduation Rate- A

Prepared for Success- C

“The state report card that was released does not represent the work that was done by the teachers, administrators and most importantly the students in our district,” said Superintendent Todd Osborne. “The report card focuses on what is in-between the starting and ending points. The most important part of transitions is the beginning and the ending. This past year we transitioned to new testing standards, new and higher testing expectations, and yet another new test to determine how students are being prepared for college and careers.”

Osborne continued, “I am not discouraged about where we are starting. I am excited about the hard work and effort the students, and staff, have put forth at the beginning of this year and excited about where we are going. We will use the data that impacts our students and district, but disregard the fragmented and misleading data, while continuing to prepare every student to be successful for their aspirations in life.”

Northern Local Schools

Achievement- C
Gap Closing- F
K-3 Literacy- C
Progress- D
Graduation Rate- C
Prepared for Success- D

Superintendent Thomas Perkins said in reality, Northern Local ranks near the top 30 percent of the state as it has every year and others fall in a similar place as they are used to, as well. “The report card is more a measure of wealth rather than achievement as the grades align almost perfectly with the amount each district spends per student. Meaning, the two percent of districts that earned an A on indicators met are also the richest two percent of districts in the state,” he said. “Only 15 percent of districts earned a C or better on the indicators and almost all of those districts are high wealth districts.”

Perkins agreed this year’s report care results do not accurately represent Northern Local or any other district in the state of Ohio because the data is not accurate or relevant to children’s education. “Northern Local provides an outstanding educational opportunity for our students and we have demonstrated that through a strong tradition of excellence. That did not change in one year’s time,” he said. “Sixty-four percent of the state failed to meet the made up standards set by ODE. This demonstrates a lack of researched based decision making that has become common at the state level.

We are always striving to improve and we will continue to do so, but I can assure you that citizens’ perception of our schools and those around us are the same today as they were prior to this report card. A misinformed and egregious punitive grading system developed by those who have no knowledge of the wonderful students we are blessed to serve will not change that.”

Lakewood Local Schools

Achievement- D
Gap Closing- F
K-3 Literacy- F
Progress- B
Graduation Rate- B
Prepared for Success- C

Upon receiving the report card results, Superintendent Mary Kay Andrews prepared a press release, which also appears on the district’s web site. Andrews’ press release states, “The Ohio Department of Education officially released the 2015-16 Local Report Cards on Thursday, September 16, 2016. In its own release, the Ohio Department of Education has cautioned communities about using this year’s release of the report cards to judge the work of school districts. Paolo DeMaria, State Superintendent, cautioned against using the report cards ‘as gospel.’

“We support accountability measures and we have progress monitoring tools in place that are based on national norms and show our students learning. We follow the Ohio Improvement Process and continuously analyze student growth and learning. However, taking a test – a snapshot in time – when there have been three sets of tests for three of the past years, has created confusion and on-the-fly adjustments. Additionally, even though the assessments will be the same next year, the cut scores will increase; thus, forcing local officials to explain comparisons once again.

What ODE fails to understand, even by making those cautions, that at the local level, we are under scrutiny and have to deal with the fall-out of a system that has changed frequently: new tests, new benchmarks and all the while, students caught in the middle.

“To summarize a few points on this year’s report card, Lakewood Local Schools earned high marks in various areas, while earning low ratings in others. Lakewood earned As in Overall Value Added, the measure that indicates the amount of academic growth students make over a year’s time, and Graduation Rate. In addition, 100 percent of third grade students met the state’s Reading promotion point. Although we earned a low grade in Annual Measurable Objectives, which measures the difference in performance for different subgroups of students, the district data in Math showed that Lakewood students are making significant, gap closing growth in Math, especially with our Students with Disabilities and Economically Disadvantaged populations. Lakewood earned a C in the Prepared for Success measure, the first year of this grade. This grade measures the percent of students who earned industry credentials, participated in dual enrollment credit/AP courses and earned remediation-free scores on ACT/SAT. There will be continued focus and energy on improving our results in the Lakewood Local district as we continue to prepare students for Careers and College. Efforts will also be focused on improving the K-3 Literacy grade and ensuring students are Reading and Writing at grade level.

“Make no mistake about it: results do matter! Also make no mistake that there are other measures by which a community holds its schools accountable that are not measured by one test: AP Courses, music, drama, arts, athletics, community service, authentic project-based learning opportunities, career-focused courses, financial accountability and community satisfaction. All of these measures matter.

“I am not disappointed in the efforts of our staff and students. We have an excellent teaching staff who haven’t forgotten how to teach; and students who all of a sudden haven’t forgotten how to learn. By next year, because the cut scores will change, no matter how hard we work, we stand the chance of looking worse. Until we get a consistent system, we will work with the changes, make adjustments and work hard for our children.

“While ODE is warning against comparing this year’s report card to previous years, we have high school students who are at jeopardy of not graduating. End of course tests replaced the state graduation test (OGT) for the Class of 2018 and beyond. Results show tens of thousands of students on a statewide level are not on-track to graduate due to low test scores on seven end of course tests. Locally, we have over 40 percent of our 11th grade students who are not on track to graduate based on test points. This is lower than the state average of nearly 50 percent. Compare this to the fact that we have had a graduation rate of 94 – 97 percent the last three years. And now we have that many students at risk of not graduating? We didn’t all of a sudden become worse! Public schools are not failing; the system is failing our students.”

Andrews concludes, “We are more than willing to help our community understand the efforts we take on a daily basis to make sure our students learn and grow. Visit our buildings; see our students engaged; meet with teachers; talk to principals and at any time, feel free to stop by my office for a chat.”

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