School scores rise, but less than last year; poverty debate continues

State officials say the elimination of two somewhat easier tests affected how scores changed from last year.

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria was upbeat about Ohio schools’ results in the state report card released Thursday, pointing to increases in test scores and graduation rates.

Statewide proficiency rates rose by just a hair in math and more significantly in English, with proficiency rates increasing on 14 total state exams and decreasing on nine.

FULL REPORT CARD: View results for area districts

But after significant improvements last year, when the statewide performance index rose by more than 2 points, this year’s increase was only a tenth of a point. Ohio Department of Education documents called the increase still noteworthy, because two elementary school social studies tests – which students had traditionally scored high on – came out of the calculation this year as the tests were eliminated.

“You see the map in the statewide report card that shows all the parts of the state where the performance index is going up. It’s incredible how it reaches every corner of the state,” DeMaria said. “That excites me, and it’s the same thing I set as our goal for next year. I want to keep pushing the system to support continuous improvement across the board, because I know people are capable of it and I know we can get there.”

The state map shows 333 school districts had performance index increases, while 275 decreased.

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In the Dayton region, only 19 districts had their performance index increase, while 25 decreased. The largest gainers were Trotwood (tops at 3.6 points up) Jefferson Twp., and Fairborn, while the biggest decliners were Northridge (last at 2.4 points down), Greeneview and Lebanon.

The statewide graduation rate, which is reported on a one-year lag, continued its slow march upward. The four-year graduation rate (measuring the Class of 2017) rose from 83.6 percent to 84.1 percent.

Many researchers have argued Ohio’s testing and report card systems do a poor job of measuring actual school quality, saying test results have a near straight-line correlation with community poverty instead.

Both the Ohio School Boards Association and the Ohio Education Association (the state’s largest teachers union) pointed to that link Thursday.

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“OEA urges the General Assembly to pass proposed report card reforms contained in House Bill 591,” said OEA President Becky Higgins. “These reforms would end arbitrary letter grades that are biased against low-income districts and replace them with other indicators that are easy to understand and are based on the needs of parents and students.”

OSBA cited school funding researcher Howard Fleeter’s statement, pointing to disparities for low-wealth districts since Ohio’s school funding model was ruled unconstitutional 20 years ago.

DeMaria said he believes the report card is an “honest reflection of the academic activities happening in a school or district,” but he agreed it does not give the whole picture, encouraging residents to visit their local schools, talk to students, and read schools’ own profile documents to get information beyond the scores.

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“If you look school by school and do a scatter plot, you can find schools with a high level of students who are economically disadvantaged doing really well,” DeMaria said. “My mission is to keep pushing the system to break those correlations because I believe that poor children can learn to the levels of other students.”

DeMaria said one of the ways the state is pushing schools to improve is by tracking chronic absenteeism and making it a report card measure. Roughly 16 percent of students statewide were chronically absent last school year (missing at least 10 days of school).

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