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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BTW and OMG, The Scioto School District Report Cards Are Here!

Let me preface this entry by saying "I'm a teacher." I have been an educator nearly all my life, and I have worked with youth for decades. I don't claim to have all the answers about education, testing, and motivation, but I have circled the block enough to know the scenery.

True, some of the environment has changed since I retired, but through my own education, trial-and-error, experience, and direct contact, I understand the basics of the game never change. A teacher must fill some holes in the recesses of his students' heads with vital information and be responsible for whatever challenges lay in his or her path to educating the class.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has released its annual school district report cards. It's the second year of the state's A-F report card. State lawmakers had passed legislation requiring a letter scale for school districts, school buildings, community schools, STEM schools, career-technical schools and college preparatory boarding schools.

The letter grades replace the former five-tier rating system of categories: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective and excellent. Performance criteria now include graduation rates, college readiness and a host of other characteristics

What the Categories Mean 


Performance Indicators: The Performance Indicators show how many students have a minimum, or proficient, level of knowledge. They are based on a series of 24 state tests that measure the level of achievement for each student in a grade and subject. The scored is reflected in an A-F grade based on how many students passed state tests in each grade and subject. At least 80 percent of students must pass to get credit for the indicator.


Performance Index: This is an A-F grade based on a weighted average reflecting the performance of students on state tests. This calculation measures student performance on the Ohio Achievement Assessments and Ohio Graduate Tests at the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th (OGT) grade levels. This ranking helps determine possible state interventions, which include a portion of the Title 1 funding directed to interventions, and implementation of the Ohio Improvement Process. 


Value-Added: The data from state tests over multiple years are examined through a series of calculations to produce a value-added designation for each school and district. The score is meant to reflect student growth from year to year. It is reflected in an A-F grade based on a statistical measure reflecting whether students are making a full year of progress in one year of school, regardless of their level at the start of the year. (The overall value-added grade is displayed below. Schools are also graded on value-added for specific groups of students including gifted students and students with disabilities.) 


Local Schools and Their School District Report Cards

Wheelersburg Local School District

91.7 percent (A) for meeting 22 out of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

Bloom-Vernon Local School District 

87.5 percent (B) for meeting 21 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an A for value-added.

Valley Local School District

79.2 percent (C) for meeting 19 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an A for value-added.

Minford Local School District 

75 percent (C) for meeting 18 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an A for value-added.

Washington-Nile School District

62.5 percent (C) for meeting 15 of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a B for value-added.

Clay Local School District

62.5 percent (D) for meeting 15 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

Northwest Local School District

54.2 percent (D) for meeting 13 of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

Green Local School District

45.8 percent (F) for meeting 11 of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

Portsmouth City School District

16.7 percent (F) for meeting four out of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

New Boston Local School District

25 percent (F) for meeting six of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

The next two schools "go by the same standards, but are measured slightly differently."

Sciotoville Community Schools

35 percent (F) for meeting seven of 20 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

Sciotoville Elementary Academy

25 percent (F) for meeting one out of four state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

Local school districts place tremendous pressure on administrators, teachers, and students to achieve high scores on the annual school district report card. Many parents are upset about the amount of stress that annual achievement tests place upon their children. In addition, most teachers find it difficult to cover mandatory curriculum because test review and actual testing require large chunks of time during each school year.

Believe me, these measures represent serious business for every school district. Through the reports of scores, all people can compare academic achievement in their local schools. And, academic achievement is the primary function of an educational system. With significant tax money designated to local schools, the public in each district expects more than mediocre return.

These are inescapable realities of modern education. State achievement tests for Ohio students and state reports of achievement for Ohio school districts are here to stay. Like it or not, each school district must meet their unique challenges and foster improvements in their schools. If they do not find satisfactory measures to better poor performance, they face tremendous risks, even closure.

The report card is a direct response to the cry from the public for complete accountability and total transparency: the public dictates the direction of public education, and the state responds to public pressures and expectations. So, now, the people have legislated a very accessible measure of each Ohio school district's performance.

And, naturally ...

The old objections to standardized testing have raised their heads. For example, here are some popular arguments against the validity of these measures of education:

* Standardized tests used in isolation are not the best evidence of performance. Some students are brilliant thinkers, but poor test takers

* Standardized tests involve factors beyond anyone’s control, which have nothing to do with student or teacher mastery. These factors intervene when an evaluation is based on a single test given in a very small testing window once a year.

* Standardized tests reward quick answers to superficial questions. They do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field. Their use encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking.

And, possibly the biggest reason people dislike standardized evaluations ...

According to the Ohio School Board Association (OSBA), the new grading system never explains why a district received the specific grades. "In reality, it doesn't unless you look at the data and analyze the data and know actually what is accounting for the A or the F," said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the OSBA.

In 2013, the Ohio School Board Association, along with two other non-profit organizations analyzed new report card ratings to see why some districts performed so poorly. What they found was a direct correlation between poverty level and student performance. 

The organizations found in 135 school districts above the state average income of $51,626, 91 percent scored an A.

But in 474 districts below the state average income, 41 percent scored an A, showing the relationship between high poverty and poor performance.

"The problem with a lot of low wealth districts is they get substantial dollars from the state. They don't have the capacity to raise local resources to make those extra services available," Asbury said.

My View

I taught many years in Ohio when no state standardized testing was administered, and I also taught many years in Ohio when testing was in effect. In fact, I was a member of the State 9th Grade Proficiency Rangefinder Committee for over ten years. I have witnessed the bad and the good of such practices firsthand.

I can attest to the quality of the testing -- the content, the administration, the grading, and the validity. I can also assure you that the tests are comprised by Ohio teachers, the Ohio Department of Education, and the testing company itself. All have a direct say-so about every aspect of the actual tests students take. Subject-matter teachers from Ohio are always on board the process.

To me, the bottom line requires that school districts (boards, administrators, teachers) do not "bad mouth" state tests making the students feel as if testing "doesn't matter" and is "unfair." To do so is to poison the product. Learning is very dependent upon the attitude of all involved in the process, and instilling the right mindset in all about the importance of the tests is critical to success. 

Think about a great Scioto County high school sports team having coaches and fans who constantly run down the very contests in which the team is involved and the rules that govern these contests. That team would soon become a group of players who blamed their poor performance on the system, the referees, and any other factor. No improvement or good sportsmanship would develop in a team that refused to see that competition is very difficult, but designed to raise its level of play through taking personal responsibility.

To be honest, I am appalled at the huge difference in scores among local schools on the school district report cards. It shows great achievement and great failure in school districts sharing many similar characteristics. I understand the cries of injustice from some low-scoring districts having seemingly poor demographics, yet as the saying goes: "It is what it is." In Southern Ohio, we seem to have a reluctance to reinforcing some of our own weak links.

I have always said the most important evaluation for any district is to see what is academically lacking and to "double up" on those areas to raise achievement. Much of the problem in this approach becomes actually identifying weakness, finding an appropriate evaluation of these areas, and implementing the necessary means to correct specific problems.

Sometimes, the whole is too overwhelming to consider when, instead, a few sustained, pinpoint efforts in the most critical areas is very possible. Administrators must discover, not speculate about, their school's weaknesses. Evidently, these areas of weakness differ greatly across the public schools in Scioto County. Look at the scores and understand the disparity.

No child should be viewed as a throw-away to an "F" performance score because of poverty or poor environment. That also is a charge to the student body that to support their fellow classmates. There is so much well-guided students can do for other at-risk students. In addition, there is so much a well-meaning community can do for students. Some underachieving students merely need confidence in their abilities, and a community that gives them a boost to success.

Here is just one observation. I happen to know the close-knit community of South Webster and the determination of those folks in Bloom-Vernon to take care of their village "business." It shows; it makes such a positive difference in academics. Perhaps, even their isolation in geography contributes to their increased desire to produce independent, intelligent students.

My last observation is that academics is the hallmark of a school, not beautiful edifices or overpowering sports teams. I say this because I feel many have a "Build a Monument" or a "Friday Night" mentality of which are the best schools in our county. Good schools should recruit good teachers just as they do great contractors or successful coaches.

Given the opportunity, the time, and the materials, a good educator can adapt to teaching almost any  subject matter deemed important. Ask the students in your local schools -- they know who pushes them for results while finding unique ways to teach not only subject matter but also critical theory of the subject in order to insure achievement and retention.

And, just another suggestion -- consider your child's high school education as important, if not more important, than their grade school years. Attend all high school parent-teacher conferences and never assume Sissy or Junior is doing well without your constant support, review, and guidance. As you well know, with hormones at full strength, teens find so many temptations to lure them from their studies. And, honestly, they may look mature and independent, but they are not. All need supervision.

Low scores? Embarrassing results? I believe in dissecting the sick elephant of public education and finding the core of the disease in a particular body. I believe, in doing so, you cannot be a person who complains and whines about certain practices while administering diagnostic procedures.

I also believe all educational ills are treatable. I say this because I know experts who are capable of discovering WHY students aren't achieving and WHAT they need to improve do exist. I met many of them when I served on the Rangefinder Committee. They are available to come to districts and help them on the road to recovery.

In this manner, are schools "teaching to the test"? You better damn well believe it. The livelihood of far too many decent educators depends upon their skill to do exactly that -- to teach to the state tests by concentrating on particular weak areas of student achievement.

Stress is a killer in the deal. Students even need to understand test-taking methods and to train with pre-test strategies. Ultimately, the score of each student will be produced through their efforts (And, yes, some need a lesson in personal accountability); however, the instructors, administrators, parents, and students must all be held to high expectations.

There is nothing wrong with failure as long as it becomes a learning experience. The wise accept failure and design strategies to avoid future problems. But, whining and blaming are for losers. And we all know acceptance of failure spells permanent defeat.

Everyone in a school district is responsible for turning a disturbing trend around. These tests are competency based, not measures of academic superiority. The most important thing a poor community can do is to educate highly its youth. In a depressed area like Scioto County, making every kid the most intelligent person he or she can be is priority Number One.  

The following is a poem my father gave to me as a youngster. I carried it in my wallet for decades until it became nothing but a shredded mass of indiscernible paper. I finally took the paper out of my wallet and threw it away. I considered recopying the poem and putting a new one in my wallet. But, upon further consideration, I thought I knew the theme well enough to just keep it in my head. I'd like to share the popular verse with those who never saw it.

The Man Who Thinks He Can

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t!
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t.

It’s almost a cinch that you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind!

If you think you’re outclassed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself
Before you can win the prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the strongest or fastest man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can!

- Walter D. Wintle

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