In East Liverpool, fourth- and sixth-graders improved in nine of 10 areas.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- While they still fall short of meeting most state standards, fourth-graders in the Valley's most struggling school districts have outperformed their counterparts from last year in many proficiency test areas, according to preliminary Ohio Department of Education data released this week.
Of the Valley's 45 districts, the three deemed in "academic watch" by state Department of Education report cards are East Liverpool, Warren and Youngstown. While the districts hit few of the state-mandated standards in the fourth- and sixth-grade areas, they did show improvement, the data shows.
"We want to see even bigger jumps, but we're certainly pleased with what we're seeing, especially in the fourth grade, because that's where we've seen the most significant jumps over several years," said Youngstown Superintendent Benjamin L. McGee.
All three districts had been in academic emergency, the lowest level on report cards, but were elevated to the watch level in August, based on 2002-03 proficiency tests and other data.
Improvements continued the 2003-04 year. In East Liverpool and Youngstown, fourth-graders taking the tests this March performed better, percentagewise, in all five proficiency test areas. In Warren, fourth-graders performed better in four of five areas.
Among the sixth-grade scores, East Liverpool showed the most improvement among the three districts, with pupils outperforming last year's group in four of five test areas.
"We're real proud of our kids," said East Liverpool Superintendent Douglas Hiscox. "I think it shows we're headed in the right direction.
"It shows our kids can do it. It shows that, when we all focus on the same goal in the same direction, good things happen."
Youngstown and Warren each improved in one area -- math -- in the sixth-grade scores.
Numbers released are preliminary data for fourth- and sixth-grade pupils who took state-mandated writing, reading, math, citizenship and science tests in March. They do not include the results of fourth-grade reading tests administered in October.
Hasn't been verified
The state Department of Education notes that the data is raw and has not yet been verified by school districts. Verified data will be released in August, when the department will issue 2003-04 report cards on each district.
For a district to earn a passing score in a proficiency test area, 75 percent of pupils taking the test must be proficient.
In East Liverpool and Warren, the preliminary data shows that mark being hit only in fourth-grade reading. In Youngstown, none of the March fourth- and sixth-grade percentages reach that level.
In East Liverpool, Hiscox was focused on the increases and attributed improvement to teachers, who he said reviewed curriculum, instruction and data, and introduced a more friendly learning environment in the classrooms.
"We're not there yet but we're moving in the right direction," he said. "We were so far down that we were hoping to have a little bit of improvement. We're excited because we got more than we expected."
McGee said he'd like to see greater gains. He attributes the current improvement to a new "guided reading" teaching model implemented in the kindergarten through fourth-grades and said he expects similar improvements among sixth-grade scores when the model is introduced in grades five and six.
He also pointed out that Youngstown third-graders taking diagnostic tests in reading showed a 39.2-percent jump in passing scores between October testing and March testing.
"We're hopeful," he said. "But we'd like to see more spurts."