Butler County school officials: State report cards can’t keep up with rapid reforms

The most recent state report cards on Ohio’s schools are only small pieces of a still changing puzzles, said local school officials, who cite their rapid pace in adding new educational programs and updating existing ways of learning to improve student learning.

This week’s release of state report cards was the second consecutive year the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has used overall district letter grades as part of its various categories of academic measurement.

One of Butler County’s largest school systems, the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, raised its overall grade from a D to C.

MORE: School districts react: Debated state report cards show mixed results

But even those districts where its overall grade remained the same – such as Butler County’s largest school system the Lakota Schools, which again earned a B – the rate of academic reforms and instructional program changes continues unabated, officials said, regardless of the state’s evaluations.

Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller is – like some other area superintendents – no fan of ODE’s practice of basing most of its report card grades and ratings on the results of student testing.

“We are proud to have earned a B as an overall letter grade,” said Miller.

But, he added in a released statement, “we have received consistent feedback from parents and our community that there is too much emphasis put on testing.”

“We have changed our approach to teaching, focusing on educating the whole child. Yes, testing is important, but it is only one form of assessment among many,” he said.

“We’re investing in a more balanced approach to education, which is what our community has told us they want. The introduction of all-day kindergarten, daily specials (gym, art and music classes) for grades K-6 and one-to-one learning in our secondary buildings are a direct result of the feedback we’ve received through community conversations and parent engagement,” said Miller.

Paolo DeMaria, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, said education reforms continue at a fast pace.

“This year’s report cards show continuous improvement is ongoing and that, across Ohio, we are getting better and better at challenging, preparing and empowering each child,” said DeMaria.

Statewide, he said, “nearly 80 percent of districts receive a C or higher, with more than 30 percent receiving a B or higher.”

Hamilton Superintendent Mike Holbrook credited his district’s improvement to a number of program changes in key academic areas.

“The two components on the state report card that truly measure student growth are included in the categories of Progress and Gap Closing,” said Holbrook.

He said in the student progress category the city schools went from a D in the 2017-2018 school year to a B in 2018-2019.

“And the Gap Closing component shows how well schools and districts are meeting the expectations for our most vulnerable students in English language arts, math, graduation, and English language proficiency,” he said.

Hamilton students improved in the gap closing category from 53.5 percent two years ago – earning a state grade of F at that time, improving to a B (88.2 percent) last school year.

Hamilton school parent Theresa Hacker said she is noticing a positive difference in the city’s school system in recent years.

“I am very impressed,” said Hacker of the Hamilton’s improving its overall grade from a a D to C.

“You can tell with the involvement of teachers and parents. That has been very helpful and you can tell changes are being made. They are pushing the kids in a good way,” she said. “There’s a growing sense of pride in Hamilton schools.”

Madison Schools kept its overall B grade but the relatively small enrollment of the rural Butler County district hurt its performance in some report card categories, said Superintendent Lisa Tuttle-Huff.

“Madison increased 13 of 21 indicator points this year from last year. But because Madison is small, we could have met an additional 14 indicators if just three or four more students had passed their end of course exams,” she said.

Some notable information from the state’s school report cards compiled from the 2018-2019 school year include:

* Ross Schools had the highest, four-year graduation rate among all 10 public school systems in Butler County at 99.5 percent. For the district it is the eighth time in nine years Ross has led all other districts in the county.

* Hamilton Schools had the lowest, four-year graduation rate at 78.8 percent.

* Among all Butler County schools, Middletown had the largest increase in four-year graduation rate, going from 85.6 percent the previous school year to 91 percent in 2018-19.

* Statewide, student proficiency continues to rise for the third year in a row in both English language arts and mathematics. Overall, proficiency rates increased by 0.9 percentage points in English language arts and by 0.6 percentage points in math. Science proficiency among Ohio students, however, dropped from 70 percent in 2017-2018 school year to 69.1 percent last school year.

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