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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

A sunny day in Toledo

IT'S been a long, difficult journey, but give the kids credit. The Toledo Public Schools got the best possible news this week when the Ohio Department of Education announced that TPS had not only escaped academic emergency but jumped two categories in the state's grading system.

TPS officials from Superintendent Eugene Sanders on down crowed, and understandably so, after learning that the district has finally shed the embarrassment of the state's lowest category and is now listed at the "continuous improvement" level, skipping over "academic watch."

Toledo Public Schools becomes the first big-city district in the state to achieve the continuous improvement ranking since the state went to a system of assigning labels. Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Akron remain in category four, or academic watch, though the latter two did escape from academic emergency. Only Dayton remains in academic emergency.

That speaks to a growing emphasis statewide on the mandatory proficiency tests, and it reflects some success in coping with the often frustrating requirements of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act.

TPS was burned last year by a requirement in the federal law that special education students' test scores be included in a school district's overall results. The district was on the verge of climbing out of academic emergency until the new requirement made that impossible.

Now, however, the district can finally point to solid advances in academic achievement, and there is no way to overstate their importance as TPS seeks to renew its 6.5-mill, five-year operating levy in the Nov. 2 election.

At the same time, it's important that the school district not get too caught up in the celebration. Much work remains to be done. Even though TPS recorded an 18 percent gain in its passage rate on the fourth-grade math proficiency test, for example, fewer than half the district's fourth-graders passed it.

Several individual schools are still considered in academic emergency, including Libbey High School.

Also, the district achieved just seven of the 18 standards set by the state. Compare that to two other Lucas County districts, Ottawa Hills and Anthony Wayne, which met all 18 and are in the highest ranked category: excellent. Sylvania was a notch behind at 17 standards met and also earned an "excellent" ranking.

Laudable as those suburban achievements are, it is still vital for the welfare of the entire region that the largest school district perform well. Finally, it appears that TPS is headed in the right direction.

Superintendent Sanders was right to spread the credit around when the good news was announced. Teachers have to teach, parents have to help, and students have to want to learn.

But give the man his due. Under his leadership, in a job that few outside the education community would ever want, he has helped TPS accomplish what many no doubt thought impossible. Certainly the fact that Mr. Sanders was a finalist for the top job in the Washington, D.C., school district earlier this month attests to the regard with which he is held elsewhere.

Now that TPS has met seven of the state's standards, his challenge - and the district's - is to go after the rest.



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