Dayton schools earn an ‘A,’ fends off state takeover

Oakwood, Bellbrook excel as state report card grades drop

Dayton Public Schools earned an “A” on its state report card for student progress, halting the clock on a threatened state takeover and taking one step toward turning around the troubled district.

Dayton’s overall performance was still very low, with F’s in the other components. But the “A” in progress Thursday was crucial, indicating that DPS students made more than a year’s worth of academic growth.

“I wanted to congratulate the hard work of the staff from last year,” new DPS superintendent Rhonda Corr said. “They did the work, and received an ‘A’ and because of that, we are out of the threat of state takeover. But as we acknowledge … we still have a lot of work to do because F’s are unacceptable.”

As expected, report card grades were down statewide because of harder tests and a tougher grading scale for schools.

Oakwood (A) and Centerville (B) were the only Montgomery County districts to score above C’s on achievement.

Almost every district in the region got an “F” in gap closing — narrowing the gap between at-risk groups and the student body as a whole.

“This year’s report cards and the grades we’re seeing reflect a system in transition,” State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said. “They reflect new tests, higher achievement targets and more challenging expectations. Improvement is happening, and with time it will begin to show on the report cards.”

But some groups continued to say the low grades reflected fatal problems in the accountability system, with too much emphasis on standardized test scores.

“Our current school accountability system is deeply flawed and needs to be scrapped,” said Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association, a teachers union.

Dayton details

Chris Woolard, the Ohio Department of Education’s senior director of accountability, confirmed that Dayton’s “A” in progress means a potential state takeover of the district cannot happen in fall 2018.

A school district is subject to takeover by an Academic Distress Commission if it gets grades of “F” in performance index and student progress for three straight years. Woolard had warned DPS last year that the district was on that path for 2018 if it did not improve.

“This is definitely a bright spot. What it says to me is that at least for that measure, it’s headed in the right direction,” Woolard said.

But he cautioned that the grade is based on only one year of data. “I want to see that improvement over time, though. It’s not a reason to say everything’s OK.”

Corr said the DPS news was reason for celebration, for both the schools and the city. The “A” in progress was DPS’ first grade above a “D” in any category since the state’s letter grade report card was instituted in 2013.

While the district’s other grades remained F’s, there was some progress there, too. After scoring last in the state by a wide margin in performance index last year, Dayton beat four other districts in 2015-16, including Cleveland and Trotwood. And the district’s graduation rate rose from 72 percent to 75 percent, putting DPS ahead of Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron and Toledo.

Bright spots

For the second year in a row, tiny Jefferson Twp. schools was the only district in the area to earn an “A” in K-3 Literacy Improvement. It was one of four districts in Ohio with an “A” in that category.

K-3 Literacy Improvement shows what percentage of struggling readers a school gets back on track. Jefferson Superintendent Richard Gates said earlier this year that the district turned Blairwood Elementary into a “literacy school,” with low student-teacher ratios and a complete focus on reading.

As usual, Oakwood schools stood out, ranking third in the state in performance index. That is a detailed measure that gives more credit for the highest test performers. Oakwood’s index was 107.7. Bellbrook was the only other district in the core Dayton area to crack 100, at 100.8.

Oakwood got three A’s, and Bellbrook was one of six others to get two A’s on the report card, joining Northmont, Miamisburg, Beavercreek, Valley View and Miami East.

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Superintendent Keith St. Pierre said the A’s are nice, but the current system doesn’t give educators enough information about student performance.

“We can say, we went from an ‘F’ last year to an ‘A’ (in student growth), and that’s great, but we’ll be scratching our heads for a while trying to find out why,” he said. “All we’re going to do is try to determine what little information (this gives us) to improve curriculum and instruction for the benefit of kids. We’ve just got to keep that focus.”

Local schools’ highest grades on the report card came in the graduation rate category, with 29 of 45 area districts earning A’s. But that graduation data tracks students who graduated based on passing the Ohio Graduation Test, not the harder new Common Core-tied tests.

Only 25 school districts in the state scored 100 percent on their four-year graduation rate, but nine of those were small school districts northwest of Dayton — Covington, Versailles, Ansonia, Arcanum, Minster, Marion Local, Coldwater, Botkins and Fort Loramie. Yellow Springs also hit 100 percent in that category.

Low scores

The scores in “gap closing” were stark, as 87 percent of the state failed the federal measure of whether each subgroup of students (by race, economics, disability, etc.) narrowed achievement gaps with the student body as a whole. High-performing districts such as Beavercreek, Kettering and Tipp City got F’s.

Woolard said “it’s a safe assumption” that students who were already struggling were most affected by new, harder tests.

“Your economically disadvantaged, your students with disabilities, who are already sort of behind and in that gap, once the bar goes up it’s not unreasonable to think that gap’s going to increase,” Woolard said.

Scores also were low on K-3 literacy improvement, with Centerville, Brookville and Vandalia-Butler among those getting F’s. Woolard pointed to the first year of the harder AIR test for third grade, plus the addition of a writing component, as reasons for lower scores.

Multiple state officials urged students, parents and educators not to obsess over the report card grades.

“There are many ways that communities can gauge the success and improvement of schools and districts,” state school board President Tom Gunlock said. “The report card is only one of them.”

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