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From the Print

Village schools— New report card in context

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The state issued its 2015–16 district report card two weeks ago, and it received sound condemnation from Yellow Springs district Superintendent Mario Basora at the Yellow Springs Board of Education meeting on Sept. 8. The Yellow Springs school district’s scores are significantly lower than last year’s, and in fact are the lowest they’ve been since the report cards were first issued in the 2003–04 school year. And while the report card’s categories have not changed since last year, the way in which districts are scored has changed “drastically,” he said.

The district received an A in its graduation rate (100 percent in 2015) and a B in how its students are “prepared for success” (“training in a technical field or preparing for work or college”). In contrast to these scores, the report indicated a C in achievement (the number of students that passed the state tests and how well they did on them), a D in progress since the last report card and Fs in K–3 literacy and how the district is serving its most vulnerable populations. In comparison, the district scored mostly As and Bs in the 2014–15 report card.

Last year, the district received a B in the category measuring the progress of vulnerable populations (called the “gap closing” component), which compares performances in math, English and graduation rates among economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and students of color. However, 526 of the state’s 608 districts received a failing grade in this category, and 432 districts received Ds or Fs in K–3 literacy.

Basora said the report card reflects an unreliable and somewhat misleading way of presenting the information to the community. Student scores were based on an increasing variety of tests given by private test companies over the past year, and changing “goalposts regarding what constitutes a passing score.” What constitutes a passing score is known only to the state, Basora contended in a follow-up interview, but doesn’t reflect the measures of student progress and success that the district values.

“When people see the test scores, the response is to criticize teachers and the school. But rarely do we question what we’re assessing. We assume how we are assessing students is valid and reliable and measuring what we want to assess, such as rote memorization and test-taking skills.”

Overall, the report card scores are lower than last year’s for districts across Ohio, Basora said, including schools to which Yellow Springs has been compared. In the Dayton area, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools, located southeast of Dayton, dropped from a B to a D in the gap-closing rubric and from a C to a D in K–3 literacy, though the achievement-performance index stayed the same at a B, while progress and graduation rates stayed at an A. Oakwood City schools, a district in central Dayton, considered one of the best in the area, maintained its scores of As and Bs, while it scored a C in K–3 literacy.

Paola DeMaria, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, cautioned parents and educators “that [they] must keep these results in perspective.” In an introduction to this year’s test scores, he wrote of the “many changes on this year’s report card … that reflect the increased expectations Ohio has for its students and schools.” The increasingly rigorous standards for test scores and achievement benchmarks have been raised since last year, and Ohio schools “need time to adjust to this change.”

“Historically, when Ohio has raised expectations for our students and schools, both have met the challenge after a short transition period,” DeMaria wrote.

Basora said in a follow-up interview that he is worried that the report card will direct undue ire at the teachers and students of the schools. “The danger is that poor test scores will serve to deter innovative learning and teaching and progressive educational institutions,” he said. Such thinking “will send [educational philosophy] back to an era where teachers teach to a test.”

In response to this year’s lower scores, the district is putting together an alternate report card that highlights the “academic indicators” that reflect “what we think makes our kids successful,” said Basora. The Yellow Springs report card will include graduation rates, innovation (in the form of project-based learning projects), student leadership roles and the number of students reading at or above their grade level. Administrators and district Communications Coordinator Megan Kelly have been working on the pamphlet.

“We’re tired of chasing test scores. We have a higher ethic and know there are better indicators of success,” Basora said. “I’m proud of our teachers. I think they’re doing a great job with our kids.”

Additional items from the Sept. 8 school board meeting will be covered in next week’s paper.

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Village schools— New report card in context

by Dylan Taylor-Lehman