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State gives schools high marks

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For the second consecutive year Yellow Springs Exempted Village School District earned a ranking of excellent with distinction on its report card from the State of Ohio, the highest possible ranking. In addition this year, the district also notched the highest performance index the schools have ever achieved on the state report card. The performance index is the most comprehensive indicator of a school’s effectiveness, according to Superintendent Mario Basora. And while the district’s index has hovered in the range of 100, 100.6, 100.7 for the past six years, this year the district jumped to an index of 102.9.

“That’s a statistically significant increase, and a good indicator that positive things are happening for our kids, district-wide,” Basora said last week. The report card is based largely on students’ performance on the annual Ohio Achievement Tests taken in the fall of 2010. Yellow Springs joins 85 of the 611 districts around the state in achieving the excellent with distinction ranking. The six possible rankings include excellent with distinction, excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch and academic emergency. Yellow Springs earned excellent with distinction last year as well, while in 2008–09 the district earned excellent.

Based on the same testing and statistical data, each of the buildings, Mills Lawn School and McKinney/Yellow Springs High School, earned independent rankings of excellent this year. And McKinney/YSHS also earned its own performance index of 103, which is a “huge” increase over its previous indexes in the past six years, Basora said.

Just students in third through eighth grade and 10th and 11th grades take the tests in subject areas of reading, math and science, and for the high schoolers, also writing and social studies. All grade levels in the district met the state standard that at least 75 percent of students must show proficiency in all subjects. And according to the report card, students demonstrated academic growth of one year or more in both reading and math.

This year’s strong performance can be attributed to several things. According to Basora, at the middle and high schools Principal Tim Krier and the teachers have focused on instruction methods for academic achievement and clarifying behavioral expectations. And the district as a whole committed to its goal to improve early identification and better teaching strategies for struggling students. The district was recognized as a Safe Harbor this year because it reduced by 10 percent from last year the number of students who did not pass the state tests. According to Basora, because helping students with disabilities requires concerted effort from everyone in the school, the improvement shows that the district has been successful in mapping effective intervention for its students.

“That by far is one of our biggest wins, because special ed is always a challenge,” he said. “But we believe we can improve because we all own all of our kids and share the responsibility for helping them improve — including special needs kids.”

While the school has made strides in some areas, there is still room for improvement. At virtually every grade level, the scores for math and science are consistently a tick below the reading and writing scores. While the graduation rate calculated in the report card for the student body overall was almost 94 percent last year, the graduation rate for African-American students was close to 73 percent. Broken down by ethnicity and economic status, the data also shows that students who are African American, learning disabled or economically disadvantaged all scored lower on the tests than their white and economically advantaged counterparts. And several dozen districts in Ohio who also achieved excellent with distinction surpassed Yellow Springs with higher performance indexes. Oakwood and Minster Local, which is the same size as Yellow Springs, were two area schools with an index of 110.

Focusing on the already established goal of refining education for struggling students will help to address the achievement gap, Basora said. The district is also working on developing more culturally sensitive practices and developing closer relationships with disadvantaged students. The math and science scores reflect a national trend in underperformance in those fields, and school leaders have acknowledged throughout the past year’s strategic planning process that math and science education in Yellow Springs needs to be better integrated into the curriculum.

Still, the state report card is just one tool in a host of several indicators the district uses to assess its overall performance, Basora said. While this year’s assessment validates the effectiveness of some of the district’s strategies, Basora anticipates the need for Yellow Springs schools to develop its own assessment tools to measure the kinds of skills this district values. Significant change is on the horizon as in 2014 a national curriculum is set to take over with more cross-disciplinary standards and a wider range of possibilities for demonstrating performance, according to Basora. The district’s Class of 2020 10-year strategic plan will help guide the development of such an assessment program. Ultimately, Basora believes, the district needs ways to gauge its own level of success in order to improve.

“We want to be able to define our success for ourselves as a community,” he said. “We’re getting better every day, and there’s no reason why we can’t be the very best school system in the State of Ohio.”



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