OHIO School districts rise out of academic troubles

Fourth-graders showed improvements.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Several school districts lifted themselves out of academic trouble, and reading scores rose statewide, with nearly four of five Ohio third-graders passing Ohio's newest reading test, the state said Monday.
The Department of Education said 78 percent of third-graders passed the reading achievement test, above the state minimum standard and far higher than any previous passage rate on the fourth-grade proficiency test that is slowly being phased out.
Fourth-graders also showed improvement in math, reading and science, while sixth-graders increased their math passage rate by 13 percentage points.
"The hard work of Ohio educators is paying off," state schools Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman said Monday.
The new achievement test was created three years ago after lawmakers overhauled the proficiency test system. Unlike proficiency tests, achievement tests are closely aligned with state educational standards taught in the classroom.
In academic emergency
This year, four districts were in academic emergency, the lowest of five academic levels, compared with 16 last year. Thirty-four districts were in academic watch, down from 52 last year.
Sixty-four percent of districts met federal standards for showing progress across every student group, including the poor and minorities. Fewer than half of Ohio's districts met those federal standards last year.
However, 488 school buildings out of more than 3,900 didn't meet standards, meaning officials must offer parents the option of transferring their children to a better building or providing tutoring.
Zelman said she remains concerned about performance gaps between minorities and white students. On the third-grade achievement test, for example, 57 percent of black pupils passed compared with 83 percent of white pupils.
On the fourth-grade reading test, 48 percent of black pupils passed, compared with 77 percent of white pupils. Last year, 44 percent of black pupils passed, compared with 72 percent of white pupils.
"I'm celebrating it on the one hand, and on the other hand I'm absolutely not satisfied," said state Sen. C.J. Prentiss, a Cleveland Democrat.
Prentiss said the results show the need for helping minority and poor pupils as early as possible, with approaches like mandatory preschool and all-day kindergarten.
In Cincinnati, 58 percent of black pupils passed the third-grade reading test, compared with 79 percent of white pupils, the district said Monday. Overall, 65 percent of district third-graders passed the test.
Closing that gap has led the district to focus closely on pupil versus school performance, said spokeswoman Janet Walsh. Last year, for example, the district started offering after-school tutoring to pupils needing help.
"We used to talk in terms of being a district of high-performing schools, but you can be a district of high-performing schools and not have all your subgroups high performing," she said. "Now we're talking in terms of being a district of high-performing students."

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