MAHONING VALLEY Troubled school districts improve



More area school districts received the state's top rating this year.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Two of the four Mahoning Valley public school districts on academic watch last year have boosted their performance and moved up a category in the state's rating system for the 2003-04 school year.
East Liverpool and Southern school districts, both in Columbiana County, moved into the "continuous improvement" category.
The other two troubled districts in the area, Youngstown and Warren, remain in "academic watch," but they have shown improvement.
Those details and others were publicized Tuesday as the state made its annual release of report cards for school districts throughout Ohio.
The report cards measure schools' efficiency through a variety of criteria, including performance on achievement tests in math, reading, citizenship, writing and science. Also scrutinized are graduation and attendance rates.
In all, there are 18 standards that districts must try to meet for the 2003-04 school year. Districts' success in achieving as many of the standards as possible largely contributes to the rating they receive.
Districts are rated in one of five categories, which, from lowest to highest, are: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective and excellent.
'Excellent' rating
Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties posted a total of eight districts in the "excellent" category, which is one more than the 2002-03 school year.
The school districts rated "excellent" for 2003-04 are: Boardman, Canfield, Champion, Columbiana, Lowellville, Poland, South Range and Western Reserve.
East Liverpool moved out of the "academic watch" category partly by boosting the percentage of standards it accomplished.
In the 2002-03 school year, East Liverpool met about 23 percent of the standards. This year, it met nearly 39 percent of the 18 standards.
Southern also edged out of academic watch, though its percentage of standards met was slightly lower this year, at 44.4 percent, compared with 45.4 percent in 2002-03.
Aiding Southern was its having achieved "adequate yearly progress," a "met" or "not met" determination that weighs whether a district has achieved certain standards on reading and math tests, and targets for graduation and attendance.
"It was nice to get moved up," said Southern Superintendent Fred Burns.
The district has been focusing on helping struggling pupils.
It also doubled the amount of math instruction provided in its elementary school.
Burns noted that 60 percent of pupils in the 2003-04 school year passed the fourth-grade math proficiency test, roughly double the percentage who passed it the year before.
Larger districts
Warren schools remained in "academic watch," but Superintendent Betty English said the district is inching upward.
In 2002-03, the district met 4.5 percent of the state's standards. This year, it earned three out of 18 for a 16.6 percent score.
English credited the district's focus on several areas for its progress.
It's paying closer attention to literacy issues, concentrating on after-school and summer-school programs for struggling pupils, and it's doing more teacher training, she said.
Parents also are becoming more involved in their children's education, which is helpful, English said.
"Certainly we have a ways to go, but we're going to get there," she added of the district's report card performance.
The area's largest district also slipped closer to escaping "academic watch" status.
Youngstown met 16.6 percent of the standards, almost twice the percentage it registered in 2002-03.
"There is some forward movement," schools spokesman M. Mike McNair said.

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