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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2004

Test scores improve for schools statewide

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio schools are getting better and test scores are on an upswing, state education officials said yesterday.

Several districts across the state pulled themselves out of poor academic status and a composite of test scores for all elementary and middle school students continued a five-year upward trend, the Ohio Department of Education reported.

Toledo Public Schools officials said the district would receive confirmation this morning that it is among the districts statewide that are no longer in academic emergency - the lowest of five designations assigned to districts and individual schools.

The education department released statewide data yesterday. Individual information on every school district and building in Ohio is to be released this morning.

Just four districts in the state were in academic emergency this year, compared to 16 last year. Thirty-four districts were in academic watch, down from 52 last year, said Mitchell Chester, assistant superintendant for policy and accountability.

"We have what we think are very impressive gains this year," Mr. Chester said during a conference call with reporters.

The top designation of excellent was attained by 117 districts, up from 85 last year, and 920 individual schools, up from 630 schools last year.

According to data released to The Blade, Toledo's 34,000-student district moved from academic emergency, past the academic watch category, and into the continuous improvement category.

Statewide, Mr. Chester praised teachers and administrators for the higher test scores.

More than 78 percent of third graders in the state passed the reading achievement test, which was that exam's first year of implementation.

Officials said those results are far higher than any previous passage rate on the fourth-grade proficiency test.

This year's 10th graders, the last class that must pass the ninth-grade proficiency test to receive a high school diploma, showed slight improvements over last year in passing percentages in all five subjects.

The statewide graduation rate was also up slightly to 84.3 percent at the end of the 2002-2003 from 82.8 percent for the 2001-2002 school year.

Sixty-four percent of districts met federal standards for showing progress across every student group including the poor and minorities.

"Last year, less than half of our districts met the standard," Mr. Chester said. "We are pleased to report this year [that] 64 percent met the standard. The results at the building level are also strong."

For the 2003-2004 school year, 83 percent of Ohio schools met the federal standard - called adequate yearly progress goals.

However, 488 school buildings out of more than 3,900 did not meet the standard, meaning officials must offer parents the option of transferring their children to a better building or providing tutoring.

Adequate yearly progress is the minimum performance required of each district and school in Ohio.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires Ohio to set those goals each year and raise the bar in gradual increments so that all of Ohio's students are proficient on state reading and mathematics assessments by the 2013-2014 school year.

In a written statement, state schools superintendent Susan Tave Zelman said she is concerned about performance gaps between minorities and white students.

On the third-grade achievement test, for example, 57.4 percent of black students passed compared to 83.3 percent of white students.

In fourth-grade mathematics, 72.4 percent of white students statewide were at or above the proficient level, compared to only 39.3 percent of black students.

"This year's data show that achievement gaps have remained at unacceptable levels in all grades and graduation rates," she said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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