MLS drops rank to ‘effective’
- Published: September 24, 2009
This year Mills Lawn School has dropped a tier in the state ranking system, from “excellent” to “effective,” because of lower demonstrated proficiencies on the Ohio Achievement Test. According to school report card information published online by the Ohio Department of Education, or ODE, at http://reportcard.ohio.gov, McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School are still classified as excellent by the state, and the district overall still ranks excellent, one of 271 excellent districts in the state. The rankings are based on tests given last fall and spring. A look at all grade levels and subject areas tested by the 2008-2009 Ohio Achievement Test, or OAT, shows that Yellow Springs schools are performing below local districts with similar demographics — Sugarcreek Local schools in Bellbrook and Cedar Cliff local schools in Cedarville — across multiple subject areas. The most notable achievement gap between these three Greene County districts is in the fifth-grade social studies scores, with only 52.5 percent of Yellow Springs fifth graders testing proficient, whereas 90 percent of Sugarcreek students and 87.2 percent of Cedar Cliff students tested proficient last year. Last year’s state average for social studies proficiency was 61.6 percent. In math, 65 percent of Yellow Springs 5th grade students tested proficient last year, versus 86.8 percent of Sugarcreek students and 82.1 percent of Cedar Cliff students. However, Yellow Springs did beat the state average in fifth-grade math scores — only 62.3 percent of students across the state met the proficiency standard last year. New Mills Lawn initiative In an interview Tuesday, Mills Lawn Principal Christine Hatton stated that the small size of the district can impact test scores. According to Hatton, last year’s fifth-grade class had only 40 students, so a few students can have a larger impact than in a bigger pool. Also, ODE statistics indicate that the numbers of economically disadvantaged and disabled students in the Yellow Springs district are higher than in Cedar Cliff and Sugarcreek. At Mills Lawn, 28 percent of students were identified as economically disadvantaged and 14.5 percent as having disabilities. However, the percentage of students with disabilities has remained fairly constant over the past three years. At Cedar Cliff Elementary, 18.2 percent of students are identified as economically disadvantaged, and 11.4 percent are students with disabilities. At Sugarcreek’s Bell Creek Intermediate School, which serves grades three through five, 15 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and 7.9 percent are students with disabilities. The drop in test scores is troubling, Hatton has stated, and the school is working to address the problem. Currently, the school is engaged in a math initiative that has teachers planning together, both at grade level and across multiple grades. One result of this initiative is that teachers have committed to teaching math at the same time of the school day, which might lead to children being grouped according to ability. Hatton, who encourages parent volunteers to contact her, would like to see small groups of students working with an adult. “We are upping the bar at Mills Lawn,” she said. High school performance Graduation rates for the district hovered barely above the state benchmark of 90 percent, at 90.4 percent, with Sugarcreek graduating 98.4 percent, and Cedar Cliff graduating 95.2 percent of last year’s seniors. In Yellow Springs, graduation data disaggregated for race reveals an internal achievement gap — the graduate rate for black non-Hispanic students was 80 percent, while 90.5 of white non-Hispanic students graduated. However, YSHS Principal John Gudgel has noted at a recent board meeting that additional students have since graduated, by passing a summer OGT test, or otherwise completing graduation requirements over the summer. In data the state tracks as “measures of a rigorous curriculum,” Yellow Springs outperformed both Sugarcreek and Cedar Cliff districts — as well as national averages — in ACT and SAT scores last year. Seventy-two percent of Yellow Springs graduates took the ACT, with a mean, or average, score of 25. Sugarcreek, with 77.5 percent of its graduating students participating, earned an average of 24 on the ACT. Cedar Cliff, with 70 percent of graduates testing, also earned an average score of 24. Nationally, 45 percent of all graduates took the ACT last year, earning an average national score of 21, according to ACT Inc. SAT scores for Yellow Springs averaged 1158, with 83 percent of graduates participating. Sugarcreek averaged an SAT score of 1098, with only 47.1 percent of graduating students tested, and Cedar Cliff earned an average score of 1134, with no data available on the number of students tested. Four measures of performance The OAT is administered to students in grades 3 through 8. Reading and math are tested every year, while writing, science, and social studies are tested on a rotation. The tests are designed to measure cumulative knowledge that is aligned with the state’s academic content standards that form Ohio’s curriculum. In order for a school or school district to meet the state requirement in the five core subject areas, called state indicators, 75 percent of tested students need to score at or above the proficiency level, a scaled score that is adjusted by the state each year, according to ODE spokesperson Scott Blake in a recent phone interview. In the upper grades, the test is called the Ohio Graduation Test, or OGT, and 85 percent of tested students need to score at or above the proficiency level. While there are exceptions, an average student needs to score at or above the proficiency level in all five content areas in order to graduate at the end of their senior year. Overall, the Yellow Springs school district met 26 out of 30 academic indicators, with fifth-grade math and social studies and eighth-grade science and social studies scores falling below proficient. In eighth grade social studies, 68.2 percent of Yellow Springs students tested proficient or above, surpassing the state average of 51.1 percent, but falling behind Sugarcreek, at 80.1 percent of students testing proficient or above, and Cedar Cliff, at 79.1 percent proficient. Notably, the entire state had trouble in the fifth and eighth grades, earning zero academic indicators out of a potential eight in the statewide report card, with as low as 50 to 60 percent of Ohio students testing proficient in eighth-grade science and social studies and fifth-grade math and science. However, Sugarcreek and Cedar Cliff districts met all 30 indicators, without the deep dip in proficiency seen across the state. According to the ODE, the dips in performance are not related to the tests themselves, nor their alignment with academic content standards set by the state. “Even if last year’s questions were statistically harder, the scoring process would level that out,” Blake said. Further, the content standards themselves have not changed, he said. The school year report cards consist of a total of four measures. In addition to the academic indicators of OAT/OGT proficiency scores, there is also a performance index, a standard of academic yearly progress, and a value-added measure. These four factors score together to determine a district’s or a particular school building’s state ranking on a six-part scale, from excellent with distinction to academic emergency. Sugarcreek joins the ranks of 116 Ohio districts with an excellent with distinction ranking, while Yellow Springs and Cedar Cliff districts, ranked excellent, are in a pool of 154 Ohio districts. Mills Lawn is one of 998 schools ranked effective. The district of Yellow Springs earned a performance index score of 100.6, with 4 percent of the student body at a limited achievement level, 10.9 percent at a basic level, 32.2 percent at a proficient level, 28.6 percent at an accelerated level, and 24.4 percent at an advanced level. The highest possible score on this weighted scale is 120 points. Sugarcreek earned a 105.7, and Cedar Cliff earned a 101.3 on the performance index. Another measure on the state report card is the value-added score, a grade-level composite that looks at “progress from year to year, whether or not students have met proficiency levels,” Blake said. “Did last year’s students achieve a year’s worth of growth?” is the question Blake says the value-added measure hopes to answer. According to ODE literature, the value-added measure shows progress over time, whereas the proficiency levels are a snapshot of performance. Yellow Springs met or exceeded expected growth in every category but two: sixth-grade math, and eighth-grade reading, which both fell below the expected growth. Sugarcreek fell below expected growth in four categories, and Cedar Cliff fell below expected growth in three categories. Still, all three districts earned an overall composite of above-expected growth, joining the ranks of 72.6 percent of districts statewide. Proficiency scores key According to the ODE, an effective-rated district or school that achieves an overall composite of above-expected growth for two consecutive years can experience an increase in its rating by one designation. Mills Lawn’s overall value-added composite in 2008–2009 was above expected growth (up from the prior school year which showed lower than expected growth), yet the school experienced a decline in its overall rating, largely because of its proficiency scores. Mills Lawn attained 10 out of 12 state academic indicators, resulting in an average of 83.3 percent and a performance index score of 99.4 out of 120, which are rankings that fall into the state’s effective designation. The excellent designation requires an averaged proficiency of 94 percent or higher, or an overall weighted performance score of at least 100. But according to the ODE, Mills Lawn could also re-earn its excellent designation by achieving another year of above expected growth, making a 2009–2010 excellent rating a possibility for the school. Principal Hatton has stated that lower than expected scores are a systemic issue that cannot be attributed to any one teacher, or even any one school year. Since the scores were announced, teachers, academic teams, and administrators have been meeting to articulate a plan to address math proficiencies, which is expected to be announced at the next school board meeting on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.