State grades out: Some school leaders blast report card grades

The return of letter grades for area school districts handed out by the state shows half of Butler County school systems earning a "B" for the last school year.

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School leaders said the report cards are not surprising and can be useful in focusing on areas needing improvement. But some district officials blasted the reports as vague and incomplete pictures of how they are performing.

Among the 10 Butler County school districts, two earned Cs and two got Ds.

Middletown, Hamilton and New Miami earned the Ds for their overall district grades.

Fairfield and Edgewood received Cs while Lakota, Ross, Madison, Monroe and Talawanda earned Bs.

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In southern Warren County, Mason Schools earned B as did the adjacent Kings Schools district.

The Ohio Department of Education report cards, which are compiled from student testing during the 2017-2018 school year, contain for the first time in six years overall letter grades for school districts.

Middletown City Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. said the district, which has historically been among the lowest performing in Southwest Ohio, remains optimistic and is showing progress in some areas — in part because of sweeping reforms Styles installed in his first year on the job.

“The overall letter grade is just one piece of the report card, and at Middletown City Schools we analyze all data from the report card. What’s most important to us is how our students are achieving at the individual level,” Styles said.

“Our focus remains on the vision set forth in our strategic plan — to improve student achievement, modernize academic environments, and successfully graduate career-ready students,” he told the Journal-News.

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While Lakota Local Schools Superintendent Matt Miller was pleased with district's B rating, he said more progress is needed.

“Lakota Schools has improved to a B from a C in both achievement and gap closing, while maintaining its A letter grade in both overall progress and graduation rate. This is a testament to our departments working together and meeting the needs of our diverse learners,” said Miller.

With 16,500 students, Lakota is the largest district in Butler County and the eighth biggest in Ohio.

Kindergarten through third grade literacy is an academic area of concern, Miller said.

“After improving from an F to a B in K-3 literacy on the last report card, we have dipped slightly lower this year to a C grade. We continue to work with our youngest learners to help them succeed in not only reading, but all content areas,” said Miller. “The realignment of our buildings to a K-2 and 3-6 model was purposefully designed to better meet the needs of our students, as curriculum is structured in these grade bands.”

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Miller — and other local superintendents — cautioned the public to not view the state reports as a complete picture of any school district. Lakota and more than a dozen other area districts – along with dozens of other districts statewide – also produce an annual “quality report” in addition to the state’s annual measurements. The self-generated reports can be found on participating districts’ websites.

“We want our parents and community members to understand that the state report card is just one source of information to consider when looking at the performance of a school district,” he said.

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Mason City Schools officials used the annual report release as an opportunity to criticize the Ohio Department of Education for excessive student testing used to compile the state's report cards.

“While Ohio’s report grade itself seems simple (A-F), over 30 different calculations used to arrive at each grade makes them anything but straightforward,” said Jonathan Cooper, the superintendent for Warren County’s largest school system.

Both Mason and Lakota are among the local districts producing their own “quality reports” to supplement the state reports.

“We appreciate accountability, and look for ways on an ongoing basis to share progress on measures that matter to our community. However, Ohio has struggled to find the right balance. It is time to reduce state testing, and the reliance on the report card to simply rank and sort districts,” Cooper said.

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Officials in Edgewood City Schools also leveled criticism of the state's way of measuring schools, saying the constant changes in testing and other measurement standards are problematic.

“Sometimes we feel the report card presents a moving target because of the continual stream of changes in expectations. This makes it very hard to develop sustainable systems to gauge student progress and impact change,” said Russ Fussnecker, superintendent of Edgewood.

The annual state report card is a key marker for all Ohio schools, offering a wide range of data — raw test performance, student growth from year to year, graduation rates and high school success, early-grade literacy, plus how well subgroups of students by race, socioeconomics and disability are closing academic gaps.

Hamilton City Schools officials did not respond to requests seeking comments on their overall grade of a D or other ratings on the report card.

Fairfield City Schools Superintendent Billy Smith said of his district's C rating that the report card "does not define us as a district or capture all of the wonderful things that are happening in each and every one of our school buildings."

“There is certainly some valuable data and information included in the state report cards, and we will utilize that data to make strategic decisions so that we can better meet the needs of the students that we serve,” he said.

“There is certainly some valuable data and information included in the state report cards, and we will utilize that data to make strategic decisions so that we can better meet the needs of the students that we serve,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, many of the things that our staff members do for our students are not included on the report card.”

The report cards’ letter grades are composed of 20 percent achievement and progress ratings, 15 percent graduation and gap closing and 15 percent each from improving at-risk K-3 readers and preparing students for success measurements data reported to the state.

The Ohio Department of Education says the report card is intended to give parents and others information “to celebrate success and identify areas for improvement,” triggering local conversations on strengths and weaknesses, as well as intensive state support for the schools that struggle the most.

But state officials acknowledge in their report card guide that “report cards are only one part of the story,” encouraging parents to visit schools, and encouraging schools to attach their own “quality profile” documents to the state’s report card.

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