Area Superintendents Respond To State Report Cards

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The release of the school report cards by the state last week led to grades ranging from A to F in school districts around Athens County. But the letter grades are not as cut and dried as they may seem to be.

“It’s more complicated than just a grade,” said Athens City Schools Supt. Carl Martin. In regards to understanding the report card, Martin said that parents and people in general would have difficulty understanding it without researching it thoroughly.

"I've been working on this for five days now," said Martin."Digging in and looking at all the different areas and seeing how they calculate things. It's no simple matter."

A complicating factor in the grades on the 2013-14 report cards is the change in the learning standards with the switch to Common Core, standards that may not be in place much longer depending on legislation currently being considered. Along with those standards comes changes to testing.

“The state of Ohio continues to use limited and flawed tools to report on the progress of schools,” said Federal Hocking Supt. George Wood. “Most of the report card is based on standardized tests — one time snap shots of student progress — that have limited predictive value of student success outside of school.”

Last year’s test was tied to the old standards said Athens City Schools Director of Curriculum and Development Tom Parsons.

“The spring assessments contained both standards from the New Learning Standards and the old Academic Content Standards,” said Nelsonville-York Supt. Mick McClelland. “Assessment results may have decreased due to school districts transitioning to the new learning standards last year.”

“The Ohio New Learning Standards were fully implemented in all grade levels last year,” said Trimble Local Supt. Scott Christman. “Teachers in the elementary had new materials in both reading and math that were aligned to these standards; however it does take time to familiarize the teachers with the new standards and to have the needed resources to be able to teach those effectively. We also had first year principals in both the elementary and junior high school last year. The principals did a fantastic job but there is always a learning curve on the first year of any job.”

Another factor impacting the grades from last year to this year was the change in the score required to meet specific indicators. In past years, 75 percent of students had to pass the state test in a specific area for an indicator to be meet. Starting with the 2013-14 school year, the percentage to meet an indicator increased to 80 percent.

“We were told to expect lower grades than in the past,” said Martin. “That turned out to be true.” Martin went on to state that the district missed three of the indicators by less than 1 percent.

One additional item impacting Athens City Schools in particular at the number of sub-groups due to the diversity of the district.

Martin stated that the increase in sub-groups also increases the number of targets which must be meet by the district. Athens City Schools has eight of the 10 sub-groups identified on the report card. In comparison, Federal Hocking has five sub-groups and Alexander has four sub-groups.

While there were some low points, there were also some positives from the annual report cards.

“We are proud of our staff, students, and community for their hard work,” said Alexander Supt. Lindy Douglas. As a district, Alexander had the highest marks in the county, receiving five As, two Bs and two Cs.

“We are fairly satisfied with our performance index,” said Martin as Athens received a B for performance index.

Some districts focus on specific areas of the report card as the most important representation of their district’s success or failure as opposed to the overall report card.

“The single most important number the state puts out is graduation rate, and once again our school district has one of the highest graduation rates in the state. That is what really matters — do children graduate and do they do well after school (of last year’s class at Federal Hocking 81 percent of our graduates went on to college),” said Wood.

With a grade of a C for the value added marker, Martin stated, “That means that in general students get a year’s worth of growth for a year’s worth of education.”

“Nelsonville-York City Schools met 18 out of 24 indicators on the 2013-2014 Report Card. The High School’s grade card was especially impressive with all A and B ratings,” said McClelland.

“Writing, Science and Social Studies scores increased at the high school and the reading and math scores only declined slightly,” said Christman of Trimble Local. “The performance index at both the junior high and high school increased and the high school had an A on the 4-year graduation rate.”

The key to the report cards may not be to only look at the grades received by the district, but to take a look at how they will be looking to improve on those grades in the coming year.

“Nelsonville-York is working hard to ensure every student succeeds regardless of income, race, ethnicity, or disability. Some of the initiatives we have started this year include professional development for teachers on note taking and summarizing, differentiating in the classroom to meet the needs of diverse learners and multi-sensory reading programs,” said McClelland.

At Alexander, “We will be focusing on a district wide initiative to increase vocabulary and student growth. We are currently looking at the local report card and meeting with teacher based teams to discuss the scores, annual measurable objectives, and the sub group information,” said Douglas.

Trimble will be looking to a new intervention and reading program to help its students. “To address some of the weak areas we are building our Response to Intervention (RTI) program. We are implementing a Tier II Reading program. We have employed and additional teacher in the elementary, as our class sizes keep growing. Tutors have been hired to work with at-risk students in reading and math. We are also providing more time for educational technology and utilizing more online work to address the new online testing requirements,” said Christman.

The report cards will continue to change slightly over the next few years, with districts not receiving a single overall grade until 2016.

One Athens Middle School parent, was concerned to see Athens County did not exeed last year's state report card. "I'm hoping that the school board will take notice and take action to improve the conditions so that our students can perform better in state required exams," said parent, Faizul Huq.

The Ohio State Department of Education provides a detailed report on how to understand the state report card as well as a link to their state report cards on their website.