At first glance, this year’s batch of state-sponsored report cards on academic achievement in all 608 public school districts, all schools within each district and all charter schools fails to inspire much confidence on the quality of education in the Buckeye State.
After all, only a handful of districts received overall final grades of A on the report cards that were released Thursday. In the Mahoning Valley, not one school district managed to reach that level of excellence.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 14 districts were deemed failures, receiving an overall grade of F. Youngstown City Schools, which will be the focus of an upcoming editorial in this space, were joined by all large urban districts in the state except Akron and Cincinnati in their placement among the worst of the worst performing school systems in Ohio.
But as with many other complex barometers of achievement, one quick glance at the grades for schools and districts for the 2017-18 academic year can be very deceptive. Indeed a closer examination of all of the individual measurements shows reason for guarded optimism and, in some cases, pride over the success and progress many schools in the Valley achieved in the past school year.
Indeed we agree with Paolo De- Maria, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, who is encouraging parents, educators, administrators and taxpayers to look beyond the one overall comprehensive grade for each district.
MANY SCHOOLS SHOW GROWTH
When extrapolating data from the relatively complex compilations, a variety of success stories come into more clear focus.
For example, all of these individual buildings in the Valley scored the exemplary and hard-to-achieve grade A: South Side Middle of Columbiana; Southeast Elementary of Salem; C.H. Campbell Elementary, Canfield High and Canfield Village Middle, all in Canfield; and Dobbins Elementary and Poland Union Elementary, both in Poland..
The Valley also had an above-average number of schools receiving the highly commendable grade of B. Forty percent of 44 districts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties received an overall grade of B.
When examining the individual components on the cards – Achievement, Progress, Gap Closing, Graduation Rate, K-3 Literacy and Prepared for Success – several districts that received overall average scores of C can find reason for optimism as well.
Take, Boardman, one of the Valley’s largest suburban school districts. This year, it earned an overall C grade, but it improved one full letter grade on student progress.
Similarly, the Poland, Canfield and Austintown districts brought up their 2016-17 grades in closing the learning gap from a B to an A, a B to an A and a C to a B, respectively.
Even on close inspection, however, some factors that figure into the wealth of scores remain hidden. One of those has been the state’s policy of constantly increasing standards and benchmarks.
To be sure, the shift toward more stringent academic standards should be applauded, not booed. Report cards from earlier years showing up to 80 percent of Ohio students academically excellent appear to have been grossly misleading.
More rigorous expectations also provide a more accurate barometer of accountability to parents and taxpayers that no longer risks lulling them into a false and inflated sense of pride in public-school performance.
What’s more, the tests only should never be used as the sole indicator of the success or failure of a student, a school or a district.
Many other factors play a role in student achievement, including the availability of strong learning resources, the caliber of teachers and the support system students receive in their personal lives.
On the whole, however, the report cards do serve as one viable tool among many that schools should use to identify and then address their own strengths and weaknesses.
If taken seriously and used appropriately, they can play an important role in improving the overall quality of learning for Ohio’s most precious commodity – its students.