Jennifer Howard, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Brookville Intermediate School, works with her class Thursday, the same day 2018-19 state report cards were released. The state puts heavy emphasis on how much year-over-year progress schools make, and a number of local schools, including Brookville, earned an “A” on that component of the report card. LISA POWELL / STAFFLISA POWELL / STAFF

Many area school districts get lower grades on state report card

Oakwood gets area’s lone ‘A’ grade, and Dayton’s ‘D’ an improvement from recent years.

Ohio students improved proficiency levels on state math and English tests for the third consecutive year, according to the Ohio Department of Education, but 15 local districts saw their overall report card grade decline for 2018-19.

Only five local districts improved their grade.

As usual, Dayton-area grades ran the gamut. Oakwood was the only local district and one of 31 in Ohio to earn an “A” on the annual state report card, also ranking third statewide in the state’s Prepared for Success metric. On the other end, Jefferson Twp. schools saw their performance index on state tests plummet, ranked last in the state in helping struggling young readers and were one of only four districts statewide to receive an overall “F.”

After a tumultuous two years and dramatic turnaround efforts, Dayton Public Schools saw their overall grade rise from a “F” to a “D,” with state test scores rising, and the “gap closing” grade surging from an “F” to a “C.”

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Dayton had been at risk of state takeover until a change in law this summer, but given the overall “D” on this report card, the district would have avoided that process anyway. Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said she hopes legislators – who are still working on a new takeover law – note that progress was made by a local district working with local partners.

“An outsider didn’t need to come into the Dayton Public Schools to start a change process,” she said.

Of the Dayton area’s largest school districts, Centerville, Beavercreek, Kettering, Springboro and Lebanon schools all got an overall “B” from the state, Miamisburg, Northmont, Troy and Fairborn each got a “C” and Xenia, Huber Heights and West Carrollton got a “D.”

Statewide, 20 percent of school districts saw their overall report card grade go up from last year, while 22 percent had their grade go down.

Highest grades

Brookville Local Schools, still recovering from the Memorial Day tornadoes that ripped the roof off their high school, showed impressive year-over-year progress in the report card.

Brookville joined Centerville among the 40 Ohio districts to get straight-A’s on all parts of the report card’s “student progress” component from state tests – performance of its special education students, gifted students, lowest 20% of scorers, and for the student body as a whole.

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Superintendent Tim Hopkins said Brookville tries not to chase the “silver bullet” ideas that come along regularly in education as the latest cure-alls for student performance. He said the focus is more on effort and knowing what each student needs.

“You have to be dedicated to hard work and content. We set goals every year, align instructional practices that we think support those and then put our heads down and work hard,” Hopkins said. “We have parents who want their kids to do well in school, staff who work extremely hard, and a lot of credit should go to the kids, who do their best every day.”

The state puts heavy emphasis on how much year-over-year growth students make, and six other local districts joined Brookville and Centerville with A’s in that progress component — Beavercreek, Kettering, Miami East, Valley View, Carlisle and Tri-County North. Carlisle’s grade was especially impressive, as the district had received a “D” in progress the year before.

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Oakwood ranked third of the state’s 608 school districts in the Prepared for Success measure, which takes into account ACT/SAT scores, honors diplomas, industry credentials and participation in college credit-bearing programs. Oakwood was also 11th in the state in performance index on state tests, and was one of five Ohio districts that met all 26 of the state’s “achievement indicators.”

Several small schools north of Dayton ranked very high in performance index, which is the most comprehensive measure of state test success. Marion Local Schools ranked 9th in Ohio in that measure, while Minster, Russia and St. Henry were also in the top five percent of the state.

Struggling scores

The tiny Jefferson Twp. school district in western Montgomery County had the lowest performance index in the region, and fourth-worst in the state for 2018-19. Jefferson, which went through severe staffing turmoil last year, had been known a few years ago for strong grades in the K-3 Literacy area – helping struggling young readers get back on track. But this year, the district ranked last in Ohio in that metric.

Dayton and Trotwood schools were just ahead of Jefferson in performance index on state tests, but both were still in the bottom 10 of the state. For Dayton, that was an improvement from the previous year, when DPS was dead last. Dayton’s 74.1% four-year graduation rate was an increase from last year’s 69.5%, but still ranked second-lowest in the state, as other schools took greater advantage of new non-test pathways to a diploma.

RELATED: Report card grades change for suburban districts

One year after a state report-card improvement kept Trotwood schools out of state takeover, the district ranked 11th-lowest in Ohio on the Prepared for Success measure. Northridge schools ranked in the bottom five percent of the state in performance index on state tests, and on gap closing, which measures how groups of students by race, poverty and disability close achievement gaps with the student body as a whole.

State-level data

In addition to higher statewide math and English proficiency, scores increased for all subgroups of students in math, and for all but Alaska Native/American Indian students in English, according to Chris Woolard, ODE’s senior executive director for Performance and Impact.

“When we looked at all the tests together, overall proficiency rates went up and the overall performance index went up,” Woolard said. “We’ve had a few straight years of that, and we think those are positive trends.”

But educators have differing opinions on the state report card’s focus on state testing, pointing to a near-straight-line correlation between poverty and scores.

“In reality these (scores) are much better measures of the types of students schools serve,” said Adam Voight, director of Cleveland State University’s Center for Urban Education. “Schools with more disadvantaged (for example by poverty or disability) students perform worse, and this has little to do with anything happening in the school.”

The Fordham Institute’s Ohio arm took a different approach.

“Ohio’s report cards remain the backbone of a transparent education system that puts student outcomes at the center,” said Aaron Churchill, Fordham’s Ohio research director. “Report cards include not only point-in-time snapshots of proficiency but also measures of student progress over time. Because progress indicators don’t correlate with demographics, they allow high-performing, high-poverty schools to shine.”

ODE officials also pointed out that the four-year graduation rate reached a new high of 85.3 percent for the Class of 2018. But former state school board president Tom Gunlock, of Centerville, said the graduation numbers don’t mean anything and are actually a disservice to students.

The Class of 2018 was the first group that was allowed to use alternative pathways to graduation (good attendance, work/community service hours, a senior project, etc.) rather than passing state tests.

“They need to pick whatever their goal is,” Gunlock said. “If their goal is to give a diploma to everybody in the state, then the (legislature) did it well. If the goal is to make sure every kid is ready for the next part of his or her life, then they did it very poorly.”

ODE officials said it was a good sign that progress was made in a variety of areas besides just state test scores. The number of students who earned dual enrollment college credits increased by about 9,100, the number scoring remediation-free on the ACT or SAT increased by 2,000, and the number earning industry-recognized job credentials went up by 2,700.

On the other hand, the state continues to struggle with chronic absenteeism among students. In the 2017-18 school year, 16.0 percent of Ohio students were chronically absent (missing 10 percent of the school year or more – roughly 17-18 days). The goal is to cut that number to 5 percent. But in the new report card, the rate rose to 16.7 percent.

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