State report cards provide school districts with targets

Report card day has tradition- ally been a happy day for some kids and a day of trepidation for others.

And so it is with school districts throughout the state, which this week saw the Ohio Department of Education release partial report card data on their performance during the last school year.

Just as in any classroom in the state, some “students” did better than others. Some were rewarded with A’s and B’s; others were relieved just to have passed.

The Youngstown City School District, a traditional underachiever, was among those able to find good news, even if the overall grade was less than what had been hoped for.

Youngstown remains in academic watch, but it was within reach of its goal, a continuous improvement designation. That, frankly, is not just a goal, it is an imperative given that there are people in the state department of education who are poised to take over the district as early as 2013.

In a meeting with Vindicator editors last month, Youngstown Superintendent Connie Hathorn vowed not to let that happen. He said the district is making progress and he intends for it to take even longer strides away from its low point, when the district was in academic emergency. That category is the state report card equivalent of an F.

Highs and lows

In the report issued this week, Youngstown showed improvements in third-grade reading and math tests and fifth-grade reading. Five elementary schools were rated in continuous improvement or, even better, as effective.

But three schools — East High School, University Project Learning Center and Wilson Middle School — stayed in academic emergency, and only one, Youngstown Early College, was designated excellent.

Obviously, Youngstown has more work to do, but it is not impossible for a school district to pull itself out of academic emergency and into continuous improvement. Warren City School District, which had been in academic emergency five years ago, jumped this year from academic watch to continuous improvement. That’s reason for some celebration in Warren, and reason for some optimism in Youngstown.

Such improvements are achieved on a building-by-building basis. One might even argue on a student-by-student basis.

Dr. Hathorn is on the right track in concentrating on professional development from the top down. He’s demanding that principals improve their skills and that they in turn work with teachers to improve student performance.

Hathorn believes he has the programs in place to facilitate the academic recovery. Time will tell, and that time is relatively short to avoid a showdown with the state.

But every district — and every employee in every district — is under pressure to improve. Even districts that hit their numbers in all 26 grading areas, exceeded their yearly progress and value added targets know they can’t rest on their laurels.

And the state department of education should also be listening to those school officials who have complaints about the cumbersome rating system that can be confusing to educators and parents alike.

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