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Mahoning Valley schools mostly maintain 2009-10 ratings

Published: Wed, August 24, 2011 @ 10:00 a.m.


By Denise Dick and Elise Franco


Ten Mahoning Valley school districts improved on their 2010-11 state report cards while 11 dropped.

Designations for the others remained the same.

In Mahoning County, Youngstown improved from academic emergency, where it had been for two years, to academic watch; and Jackson-Milton jumped two ratings from effective last year to excellent with distinction, the highest designation.

Jackson-Milton was the only Mahoning County district to earn the designation.

“The last couple of years we’ve really concentrated on professional development, concentrating on the standards,” said Superintendent Kirk Baker.

Though Jackson-Milton saw an increase of two designations, he said the district thought it would earn an excellent rating last year until it realized it hadn’t met the value-added standard, the measure that tracks students’ academic progress from one year to the next. That kept it at effective.

The district also has been emphasizing technology in its classrooms, Baker said. Last year, it introduced e-readers into elementary school classes, and this year they will be expanded to middle school.

Connie Hathorn, Youngstown superintendent, said the district improved by creating a sense of urgency and by using data to drive instruction. The improvement means Youngstown is no longer the worst school district in the state.

“I believe moving up a rating is indicative of the progress yet to come,” Hathorn said. “We met the value-added measurement, which shows that our students made a year’s growth, or more, this past school year. That is a significant indicator of the data analysis our teachers are doing to continually pinpoint where each student needs help.”

In Trumbull County, McDonald, Newton Falls and Joseph Badger, improved two steps each.

McDonald improved from continuous improvement to excellent, and both Newton Falls and Joseph Badger jumped from effective to excellent with distinction.

Bristol improved from effective to excellent.

In Columbiana County, Lisbon improved from effective to excellent; Southern Local increased from continuous improvement to effective; Beaver Local improved from effective to excellent; and Crestview jumped from effective to excellent.

Lisbon Superintendent Donald Thompson said it was the implementation of new programming and curriculum several years ago that helped Lisbon earn an excellent rating.

“Our goal has been to move up,” he said. “We firmly believe in our programming.”

Thompson said the district dropped from effective to continuous improvement two years ago, and the rebound proves its programming is working.

“Anytime you institute a change, you’ll probably see a brief drop in your scoring,” he said. “Since that time, we began to see it turning because we stayed with those changes.

“We’ve buckled down and done the work. It’s a combination of our programs coming together and students and staff working hard.”

Other districts saw a drop.

Austintown, Campbell and Struthers all dropped from excellent to effective, and Poland and Western Reserve each saw a decline to excellent from excellent with distinction.

Thomas Robey, Campbell superintendent, said that after three years with the excellent designation, the district’s failure to meet the value-added standard resulted in the lower ranking. The state changed the way value-added is calculated on the latest report cards.

“There were some good things,” Robey said. “We went from 15 to 18 indicators, and our performance index increased from 90.7 to 92.1.”

The district is waiting to see the state data to determine where improvements are needed to meet value-added.

“We’re pleased with part of it and disappointed with part,” he said.

Particularly disappointing is the fact that districts with the excellent label get some monetary benefit from the state this year.

“That was frustrating to me,” Robey said. “The one year there’s monetary benefit and we’re just short of that mark.”

Robert Zorn, Poland superintendent, said it’s hard to maintain excellent with distinction and is satisfied that his district is consistently among those ranked excellent.

“Those excellent-with-distinction schools, you have to get a big jump in one particular area to maintain it,” he said. “It’s very difficult to do it two years in a row.”

Zorn said it’s hard for a district to show exceptional progress when it consistently meets every standard. He said that because of that, he doesn’t necessarily agree with the way value-added is measured.

“If you score 26 out of 26 indicators, as we have, that’s equivalent to 100 percent,” he said. “If that’s the case, what does ‘with distinction’ mean?”

Vince Colaluca, Austintown superintendent, said he’s happy with where his district is, despite its drop.

“I think that we’re very proud of what our teachers and students have done,” he said. “Maintaining an excellent rating is difficult.”

Colaluca said what the district lost in value-added, it made up for in the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measure. That standard is based on participation and proficiency rate goals in 10 student subgroups including all students, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency.

“We met AYP, and that standard has been growing like crazy,” he said. “By 2014, 100 percent of our students have to be proficient. This is our fifth year in a row meeting AYP, so we’re really proud of that.”

Trumbull districts that declined were Bloomfield-Mesopotamia, Champion and Maplewood, all from excellent with distinction to excellent. Liberty dropped from excellent to effective.

Stanley Watson, Liberty superintendent, said value-added is what caused that district’s slip, too.

Liberty did well in reading and math at the middle school level, he said. The elementary school, though it struggles in reading, is rated excellent on the report cards released today.

The district also did well in AYP.

“Our high school kids did very well,” Watson said. “I think 10th-grade science was the only standard we didn’t meet at the high school.”

The middle school saw such a dramatic increase on the previous year’s report card that it made it difficult to sustain, he said.

In Columbiana County, Columbiana Village dropped from excellent with distinction to excellent, and East Palestine fell from excellent to effective.

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