Local school districts make grade in state report card

10/18/2012
BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Several area charter schools and traditional school districts saw significant bumps on their school report card ratings, thanks to a metric used to measure student growth.

The Ohio Department of Education released data Wednesday that listed district and school ratings, attendance rates, and performance index scores — a cumulative average of scores for all grades — after delaying the release of those elements while a statewide probe into possible manipulation of attendance data continues.

The department says the data are still preliminary and subject to change, though it’s unlikely final ratings for districts and schools would be significantly different than the data released Wednesday.

The local charter school that saw the biggest rating increase was the Maritime Academy of Toledo, a nautically themed school on Water Street. The school went from academic watch to excellent, a jump of three ranks in just a year.

“I was shocked,” academy Superintendent Renee Marazon said. “It was the most exciting day in my life, I think.”

The school beefed up its academic program last year, requiring students who weren’t proficient on state tests to stay after school for added instruction. More enrichment programs were offered. Computer-based testing was used to predict student performance and show areas of weakness.

The school’s status as a charter school allows flexibility in some areas not offered to traditional districts. For instance, teachers aren’t unionized at the academy, so teachers were paid $15-an-hour, below their normal rate, for the after-school work.

But the superintendent also credited her school’s philosophy of creative instruction and hands-on learning. Students build boats, spend time on the water, and conduct marine biology research.

The school’s rating increased in part because of better test scores. It also received a one-rank bump because it met expectations on the value-added metric, which measures student growth. While the biggest, Maritime wasn’t the only institution whose rating increased because of value-added scores.

Sylvania schools increased its rating to excellent with distinction from excellent despite a slight decrease in its performance index score. The boost was thanks to students showing above-expected growth on the value-added metric.

Brad Rieger, the district’s superintendent, said the jump was a credit to everyone in the school system. Though the ranking is nice, Mr. Rieger said it’s only one measure of success.

“The ultimate measure for what we do is our students going forth and using their talents and their skills to make a positive contribution in the world,” he said.

Lucas County districts Anthony Wayne and Springfield joined Sylvania with the top rating. Some area districts that also were rated excellent with distinction, included Perrysburg and Swanton.

Perrysburg Superintendent Thomas Hosler said the boost from value-added scores can be a bit of a mystery, since its formula isn’t public information.

“This isn’t the only thing that we measure ourselves with,” he said, though adding, “you certainly want to celebrate it.”

Washington Local’s rating also increased, from effective to excellent, because of its value-added score. The district also had its highest performance index score ever, at 97.2, and curriculum director Brian Davis said the district’s cumulative score has been on a slow but steady rise in recent years.

In the area, the district that saw the biggest rating drop was Northwood Local Schools, which fell two spots and reverted to its 2009-2010 rating of effective. The district had shot up on last year’s report card to excellent with distinction, thanks in part to its value-added performance.

Value-added caused Toledo Public Schools’ rating to sink to academic watch after years in continuous improvement, since the district’s student showed below expected growth for several years in a row.

Rating changes on Ohio’s report cards don’t necessarily indicate improvement or decline. Performance index variations that aren’t statistically significant can’t bump a district in either direction, as can value-added performance. Of the 34 Lucas County charter schools open last academic year, more were rated in academic emergency than excellent, at eight to five.

The state education department can close charter schools for sustained poor academic performance, but no action will be taken at this time since the ratings are still preliminary, ODE spokesman John Charlton said.

The Toledo School for the Arts, located in the Uptown district, was rated excellent for the seventh year in a row. School director Martin Porter credited what he called “one of the best teaching teams on the planet” and the school’s creative culture for the sustained success.

Mr. Porter said that the schools art-focus helps, instead of hurts, student academic performance, and said the national push for more science, math, engineering, and technology education misses important educational elements.

“I think what they miss in those schools is that problem solving requires a creative mind,” he said, “and when there’s an environment that is inundated in the arts, you have students who can apply themselves more to the academic side and are more focused in terms of being successful and creative in all of their endeavors.”

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.