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Published: Wednesday, 8/15/2007

Most suburban schools hold steady on new tests; but 3 local districts fall grade lower

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Fewer Ohio school districts this year received the top ranking on the state's annual report card, chiefly because of poor performance on exams administered for the first time, Ohio education officials said yesterday.

A composite of all test scores without the new exams showed the state's public school students performed slightly better during 2006-07 than during the previous year.

But adding the scores from those four additional tests - science and social studies in both fifth and eighth grades - drags the state's performance index down to 92.1, just below the previous year's score of 92.9.

Statewide, the worst results were seen on the eighth-grade social studies test, on which less than half - or 49.3 percent - passed.

Still, Ohio's education leaders accentuated the positive points released yesterday in the state's "2006-07 Local Reports Cards."

Susan Tave Zelman, state superintendent of public instruction, said overall student performance continued its upward trend seen during the last several years.

"Eight of 10 of our school districts in the state of Ohio are either excellent or effective," Ms. Zelman said.

The state yesterday released data for more than 600 districts and 3,500 individual schools, including charter schools. The report cards details performance on 30 indicators that include 28 standardized tests, graduation, and attendance.

From best to worst, the state assigns labels of excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch, and academic emergency to districts and individual schools. The performance index is a 120-point scale.

For Lucas County and the three surrounding counties, Northwood, Maumee, and Bowling Green schools each dropped a rating category from excellent to effective, the equivalent of a B.

The other school systems in Lucas, Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa counties remained unchanged from last year.

Toledo Public Schools and Dayton City Schools both lost their continuous improvement status and are now among just11 districts statewide in academic watch.

Akron now appears to be the top-rated urban district in the state, having achieved 8 out of the 30 indicators and scoring an 83.7 performance index.

For the second consecutive year, no Ohio school district ranked in academic emergency - the worst of the five categories.

However, 182 individual schools statewide still received an F for 2006-07 in the performance data released yesterday.

Receiving what amounts to a D are 230 schools - up from 218 during 2005-06.

Mitchell Chester, senior associate superintendent of policy and accountability for the Ohio Department of Education, told reporters yesterday morning he was encouraged to see more school districts still in the excellent category than in 2004-2005 and earlier, despite the new tests.

Across the state, there were declines in the percentage of students passing reading exams for grades six, seven, and the 10th-grade Ohio Graduation Test.

For example, 77.7 percent of students passed the sixth-grade reading test - down from 83.6 percent during 2005-2006.

"It does tell us we really need to pay attention to the middle grades," Mr. Chester said. "Those are the grades we really saw a reading decline."

Reading scores improved, however, in grades three, four, five, and eight.

In math, Ohio students made a second year of overall gains, the education department said. Proficiency rates for grades three, six, seven, and eight increased. The percent of students proficient increased by 9.6 points in the third grade and by 8 points in the seventh grade, compared to 2005-06.

Results for local districts reflected the state averages.

Ottawa Hills remained the top local school district in the rankings. It is the third-highest rated in the state with a 108.5 performance index score.

Wyoming schools in Hamilton County was the highest-rated district with a 109.3 performance index. Solon schools southeast of Cleveland, which scored 108.6 performance index, was second.

The three school districts are among 12 statewide that met all 30 performance indicators.

East Cleveland Schools had the worst performance index score - a 71.1. Dayton was just slightly better with a 71.5 performance index.

Toledo Public placed 599th out of the 610 school districts. It scored a 79.1 performance index. Without the new tests factored in, the district would have received an 83.2 performance index and kept its C-grade continuous improvement rating, Superintendent John Foley said.

Lima City Schools, also in academic watch, was even lower than Toledo - 602 on the list - with a 78.6 performance index.

Bowling Green Superintendent Hugh Caumartin said the report cards were met with mixed emotions.

"We achieved 28 of the 30 standards, which is pretty good," he said. "In fifth-grade math, which has been one of our challenges, we met the state's standard."

Like many school systems, Bowling Green couldn't meet the minimum standard for the fifth and eight-grade social studies exams.

"The standard procedure of the Ohio Department of Education is 'ready, fire, aim," he said. "They are probably going to go back now and take a look and see why kids didn't do well and begin to aim."

School districts were also rated on the performance of subgroups of students.

Mr. Chester said achievement gaps remain one of the greatest challenges for Ohio but when 2005-06 and 2006-07 performance is compared, gaps in achievement narrowed, although slightly.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to hold schools and districts accountable for the achievement of each student group, including racial and ethnic groups, low-income students, limited English proficient students, and students with disabilities.

The adequate yearly progress measure indicates whether schools and districts have gaps in achievement among these groups of students.

The percentage of Ohio districts meeting adequate yearly progress decreased to 29.7 percent from 31.6 percent in 2005-06.

Because the number of tests counting for adequate yearly progress has increased, more schools and districts have become accountable for more student groups than in the past, Mr. Chester said.

The report released yesterday also stated:

•96.5 percent of core courses are taught by teachers who meet the federal definition of highly qualified teachers - a bachelor's degree, a state license, and demonstrated competency in the subject area they teach. But students in high-poverty schools are less likely to be taught by highly qualified teachers than students in low-poverty schools.

•The state's graduation rate for 2005-06, the most recent year of available data, is 86.1 percent, one-tenth of 1 percent lower than the 2004-05 rate. The graduation rate was significantly lower for black students, 69 percent, than for white students, 89.8 percent.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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