Dayton Public Schools is on the rise, declared DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli last week after the state of Ohio released report card data showing the school district earned an overall “D” grade.
The mood was a sharp contrast to 12 months prior, when the district ranked dead last among the state’s 608 school districts in test scores and its “F” grade put it on the path to being taken over by the state if it didn’t improve.
The report card is more than just a single letter grade. Like a high schooler’s grade-point average, the district’s “D” is calculated based on several measurements.
The Dayton Daily News Path Forward initiative investigates solutions to the biggest issues facing our region, including improving Dayton Public Schools. That’s why we dug into the data behind the district’s report card to find out what contributed to its improved overall grade this year and what’s holding the region’s largest school district back from doing even better.
“We worked really hard and we’ve been focusing on academics, as well as attendance, and it paid off, so we’re very excited about that,” Lolli said.
The goal is to continue improving to a “C” grade next year, Lolli said.
“A ‘C’ or above for next school year is our target and we think we can achieve that,” she said
State test scores are the basis of more than half of the state report card, and in Ohio, performance index is the most comprehensive measure of test outcomes. After ranking at the bottom statewide last year, Dayton beat out four school districts.
MORE ON REPORT CARDS
Many education analysts say state tests should be emphasized less because years of data show a near straight-line correlation between test scores and wealth/poverty. They say that makes comparisons of districts unfair because socio-economics matter at least as much as a school’s educational quality.
This report card shows Dayton improving its own results in multiple areas, including scores from some groups of disadvantaged students.
The main reason Dayton schools’ overall state report card grade rose from an “F” to a “D” was improvement in what the Ohio Department of Education calls “gap closing.” None of the district’s other five component grades changed from last year, but the gap closing grade rose from an “F” to a “C.”
Gap closing measures how certain groups of students performed in English, math and graduation rate, when compared to state-set goals. There are 10 groups — black, white, Hispanic, Asian/islander, American Indian/Alaskan, multiracial, economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, English learners and “all students.”
A school district gets points for each group that improves in English, math or graduation. There’s also an extra calculation for how much language progress the English learners group makes (students of different national origins who are not yet proficient in English). All of those points are converted into a total score out of 100.
Last year, Dayton’s gap closing grade was an “F,” and ranked third-worst in the state. This year, its gap closing grade was a “C,” rising 146 spots in the state rankings to 460th. That put it ahead of a majority of Ohio’s Big 8 urban districts, as well as a dozen Miami Valley school districts.
“We are closing the gap,” Lolli said. “We are very, very excited about that particular grade because that shows that we’re serving the needs of all of our students and we are actually closing the achievement gaps for all of our population we serve.”
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Last year, Dayton got the equivalent of a “B” for its gap closing work in English, but extremely low F’s in math (3.4 points out of 100), graduation (12.5 points) and English learners (zero points). This year, reading fell to 68 points, but the others soared to 60.2 in math, 85.6 in graduation and 100 in English learners.
Dayton’s English learners exceeded the target set by the state for 2018-19, with 56% of those students either proficient in English or “making adequate growth,” said Chris Woolard, senior executive director for performance and impact for the state education department.
The gap closing improvement “is a very big chunk of” the district receiving a higher overall grade, Woolard said.
Report card summary
In addition to the “C” in the gap closing component, DPS got two D’s — one for year-over-year student progress and another for its work with struggling young readers. The district got three F’s in test achievement, graduation rate and “prepared for success,” which measures various high school accomplishments.
At the building level, overall grades went up in four schools, down in six schools and stayed flat in 15 of them.
Horace Mann PreK-6 School got an overall “B,” and four others earned “C’s” — Eastmont, Valerie, Westwood and Stivers. Valerie and Westwood jumped two levels from F’s on the previous report card.
Thirteen DPS schools got overall F’s, including all three middle schools and four of the six high schools.
Fifteen DPS schools saw their performance index on state tests rise, led by solid increases at Belmont, Eastmont, Horace Mann and Belle Haven. Ten schools’ index scores decreased, with the biggest declines at Charity Earley, the now-closed World of Wonder and Kiser.
Westwood ‘has come a long way’
Parents waiting to pick up their children from Westwood after the bell rang Friday afternoon were joyful about that school’s “C” grade.
“(Westwood) has come a long way,” said Nina Benton, whose middle school daughter went to the school, and was picking up her second- and fourth-graders.
Deja Norvell said she had intended to transfer her children — a fourth grader and a kindergartner — to a parochial school next year. But now she is on the fence.
“I hope it honestly keeps doing better this year,” she said. “If they do make progress, maybe I won’t have to look to a (non-DPS school).”
Like the district at large, Westwood’s letter grade improvement was buoyed largely by the gap closure measure. This is particularly meaningful at that school, which serves some of the poorest neighborhoods in Montgomery County.
“You know some good things are happening in that school and I think the schools need to be recognized on that,” said Tom Lasley, CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton, which works to close achievement gaps.
Learn to Earn received a grant last year to study what’s driving the achievement gaps in certain schools and identify policies to address them.
Lasley said programs Dayton Public Schools should continue to focus on to close the gap include listening to and engaging parents and students, after-school programs that support the work of schools, a focus on attendance and preschool programming.
‘Room for improvement’
Dayton schools’ attendance figures have been among the bottom 20 districts in the state, and they worsened in 2018-19.
The overall student attendance rate dropped from 90.5 percent to 89.5 percent. The chronic absenteeism rate rose from 30.7 percent to 34.1 percent. The district launched a new attendance campaign this fall.
The district’s four-year graduation rate had dropped on the previous report card to 69.5 percent. In this year’s report card, it rebounded to 74.1. That’s still second-worst in Ohio but an improvement.
“There’s still room for improvement in graduation rate, no doubt,” said David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association teachers union.
He said the district also needs to keep its eye on improving pre-kindergarten through third grade literacy.
“Generally those two areas, I think, with some concentrated focus, would make a real difference in perhaps moving us up to a ‘C’ district and keeping us there,” he said.
The issues of graduation and literacy are linked, Lolli said.
“We have a lot of students who become very discouraged early on,” she said. “And if we can change the way we do things at the beginning of their education, make sure they’re literate by third grade, we’ll be able to make sure they are readers in seventh and eighth grade, where it’s very critical, and when they get to high school they are on target.”
Romick credits initiatives such as improving teacher compensation and beefing up the district’s curriculum department for giving teachers the support they need to improve education for students.
Dayton Board of Education President Bill Harris also said the improved grade validates the initiatives and strategies put in place by Lolli, such as focusing on curriculum and professional development. He hopes performance will continue to rise as they focus on things such as improving attendance.
“It’s a stepping stone,” Harris said of the improved grade. “We’re not satisfied. We want to keep on climbing higher.”
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