Area school superintendents are mixed in their opinions about the 2014-15 school report cards, noting that new tests and new standards contributed to a general dropping of grades among districts.Some also question the accuracy of the data.

Ohio Department of Education officials also cautioned that generally, grades will be lowered on this report card because of higher standards and new tests. Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Lonny J. Rivera expressed this himself in a press release.

“We’ve long expected that grades might decline as we began to raise the bar for our students and schools,” he said.

Overall reactions to 2014-15 report cards

In Champaign County, school districts generally saw a lowering of grades, though some specific areas for individual districts improved, depending on what the district was focusing on with its teachers and students.

“We’re disappointed that the district is rated where it is,” said Graham Local Schools Superintendent Matt Curtis, adding the district is working to improve its instruction for students.

West Liberty-Salem Local Schools Superintendent Kraig Hissong said he is pleased overall with student achievement.

“We were warned last year about the increased rigor of these tests, yet we were very happy with the number of indicators we met and the margin of passage for students in most of the tested areas,” he said. “Our PI (performance index) dropped this year due to less students achieving an advanced score, but it seems to be in-line with the performance of most districts we were similar with in the past.”

Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel said he is, overall, pleased with the results.

“We had some bright spots, and some areas where we knew we needed continuous improvement,” he said.

Triad Local Schools Superintendent Chris Piper said he thinks it is more important for districts to develop their own ways of assessing students, and that is something staff is working on at Triad.

“There is a lot more to our story than just what the state reports,” he said. “That said, we use these measures to take a critical look at our scores in order to determine what is working well and where we need to improve. There are many areas on the report card so it is difficult to draw overall conclusions.”

Delayed data and questions of accuracy

School report cards were delayed for 2014-15 because of new tests that were instituted that year. The data from those tests, created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, was originally supposed to come out in December 2015. But it got delayed further by late delivery of assessment results from PARCC, the education department said in a press release. Traditionally, report card data is released in August in the year the tests were taken.

“It’s a little difficult to impact instruction when the data’s almost a year old. But it does give us some trend data, comparison data, so there is value to it,” Curtis said.

To deal with the lateness of the data, school districts have been doing their own internal testing to keep track of student progress.

Superintendents were also dealing with new state standards. Having different tests and standards makes it hard to compare the 2014-15 school report card data to prior years, they say.

“There are areas of the report card that are lower this year than last year but … that is not a fair statement since we are not comparing apples to apples,” Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Danielle Prohaska said. “Regardless of the grade earned, Mechanicsburg believes there is always room for improvement.”

Thiel echoed other superintendents questioning whether this report card data is comparable to prior years, due to the change in tests and standards. He also questions the accuracy of the data.

“There have been a number of issues with getting the right information uploaded to ODE (Ohio Department of Education) this year. We are hopeful that the data is correct, but can’t be certain,” he said.

Piper said he noticed that some of the data was incorrect on this report card. For example, the “graduation with honors” rate was zero, though he knew there were students who graduated with honors.

Hissong said district staff are concerned about some of the tested areas and the number of students considered proficient.

“We have questions about value added and the accuracy of this data, and if it should have been included at all on the report card, especially when they did not feel it was solid enough to use for teacher evaluations as it has been in the past,” he said.

Hissong refers to a “safe harbor” provision put in place by Ohio legislators to protect teachers and administrators from negative impacts from the 2014-15 testing data. Ohio’s teacher evaluation system places a high value on student testing data when determining teacher effectiveness, which leads to decisions on compensation.

Despite accuracy questions, Piper said there are some areas that are probably OK to compare to prior years on the report card, such as the graduation rate and student progress, because “those measures aren’t dependent on the changes to the tests. We cannot compare our student achievement scores to years past because they were entirely different tests, but we do compare our scores to other districts in our area to see how we are doing.”

Acknowledging strengths, addressing weaknesses

To address issues, school districts are trying new ways of helping students learn. In Graham, one new program is Literacy Collaborative. Curtis said the district is working with Ohio State University to bring that program to the classroom, which provides additional reading support for students and teachers.

Curtis said he was encouraged by the value-added data for students with disabilities, and students in the lowest 20 percent of achievement in the report card. Those grades improved.

Hissong said he was proud of student achievement scores in general, which “exceeded our expectations.”

Prohaska said she is proud of the work the teachers do daily and that this work is reflected in the improved grades for indicators met, graduation rate and gifted data.

Thiel said he is proud to see how Urbana teachers are doing in getting students up or past grade level in areas of instruction.

“Our progress scores once again show our teachers are able to move our students forward academically at a faster rate than most,” he said. “In general, our students start farther behind than most students and the instruction our staff provides closes that performance gap on a consistent basis.”

Thiel is also pleased to see how students are doing in early literacy.

Piper said he’s proud of every good score, but “I’m most proud of the attitude of continuous improvement that I see here at Triad. We have teachers, administrators and staff members that are working very hard to ensure that there is nothing better than learning at Triad.”

Different districts have different areas they want to address with their students.

In Mechanicsburg, Prohaska said the district is focusing on the gap closing and progress measures, which focus on how much students are learning during the school year.

Hissong said the district has been working on improving instruction for gifted students, but that likely would not show up until the 2015-16 report cards.

Thiel said he wants to put more focus on instruction in mathematics.

Piper said staff won’t be satisfied until students excel in every area. On this report card, he said, the district needs to improve its K-3 literacy scores and overall academic achievement by hitting all state indicators. The district also wants to see a 100 percent graduation rate.

Superintendents say they hope for consistency in the future with testing and report card test data.

“We’re hoping over time that the state of Ohio can decide what their standards are,” Curtis said. “I think everybody would share that comment. It is difficult from year to year to judge (improvement).”

By Casey S. Elliott

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.