As the Ohio Department of Education released its 2002-2003 local report cards yesterday, Maumee Superintendent Gregory Smith was wondering how he could explain his 3,000-student district's results.
“Are you hearing the word `confusion'?” he said. “I think people want to look at an apples-to-apples comparison, and there isn't really a true one.”
The report cards, posted on the department's Web site yesterday for the state, 608 districts, and school buildings, show the familiar results of years past: percentages of students passing each of five subject tests in fourth, sixth, ninth, and 10th grades as well as attendance and graduation rates.
But this year, the state had to blend its testing system with new federal requirements that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act, said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
That meant testing and including the performance of students with disabilities in the districts' overall results, developing an “adequate yearly progress” standard, applying that standard to subgroups of students by race and socioeconomic situations, English-speaking, and special education status in three grades, and analyzing how districts and schools performed at those sublevels.
“The bottom line is, this is a new era of educational accountability,” Mr. Benton said.
State Superintendent of Instruction Susan Tave Zelman said Ohio schools, as a whole, showed progress. “While I'm gratified for the improvement we are seeing, the results show that not all of our children are achieving at high levels,” Dr. Zelman said. “We still have wide gaps in academic performance among groups of students.”
African-American students improved on 12 of 20 tests, but still lag in graduation rate, according to the Ohio Department of Education. While 88.3 percent of white students graduated from high school, that number was 61.9 percent for African-American students, Dr. Zelman said.
“This gap is alarming and unacceptable,” she said.
Three urban districts - Columbus, Cleveland, and Youngstown - moved out of academic emergency and into academic watch, Dr. Zelman noted.
“We have a new system that is different, has new rules, and creates a new starting point for Ohio schools,” she said.
Dr. Smith said using previous criteria, Maumee schools would have met 21 of the 22 possible indicators. But including special education students dropped them to 17 and from an excellent rating to effective.
Dr. Smith worries that the report card showing the district didn't meet adequate yearly progress standards is producing a perception students are not performing as well as they are.
While all the subgroups met the improvement goals in reading and math, Maumee students with disabilities did not meet the adequate yearly progress goal for reading, he said.
“Each of our buildings met it, but as a district, we didn't. We have a new benchmark to work forward from. It's like we have a new starting point,” he said.
Otsego Local Schools followed similar scoring patterns.
Otsego didn't meet adequate yearly progress standards last school year as measured by the report cards, and met just 16 of 22 possible indicators. However, results from the two prior school years showed students making progress.
Folding in proficiency test scores of students with disabilities is somewhat difficult to swallow, said Joe Long, Otsego superintendent. Those scores are felt especially hard in small districts, he said.
He tends to judge the district by looking at several consecutive years of scores rather than a single year. “You are taking a snapshot of a group of students one year, and the following year, you aren't testing the same students,” Mr. Long said. “So we expect variations. We continue to move forward.”
For some school districts, the new system has brought public relations blitzes in an attempt to explain the new system and point out improvements in their results despite little or no improvement in some sections of the state report card.
Toledo Public Schools officials, in one of several news conferences in the last three months, yesterday described how the changes in the state reporting affected the 35,000-student districts' results.
The six indicators met leave the district in academic emergency - a label members of the public are familiar with even if they aren't versed in the changes to the reporting.
Chief Academic Officer Craig Cotner called the reporting process frustrating. “If the state had not changed, we would have met eight” indicators and been in academic watch, Mr. Cotner said. “This is by far our best year academically.”
Changes in testing, the test itself, and other factors could have affected districts' scores as well, officials said.
Springfield Superintendent Cynthia Beekley said drops in fourth-grade scores in all five subjects from last year to this year could have been partially attributable to the inclusion of special education students. But this year, because of federal requirements, students could only be tested once and have that result count, she said.
“Last year, we included our summer school scores. For some kids, they need the whole fourth-grade year to complete their education,” she said.
The report cards for schools and districts are available at the Ohio Department of Education Web site, http://www.ode.state.oh.us/reportcard.
Blade staff writer Jack Baessler contributed to this report.