Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Educators seething about list

'Failing' schools turn to damage control

By Jennifer Mrozowski,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Educators from 16 Greater Cincinnati schools are seething that their schools' reputations were damaged after the state mistakenly placed them on a preliminary list of underachieving schools.

[photo] Norwood Schools Superintendent Barbara Rider was shocked to see Norwood View Elementary on a list of failing schools.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        The list of 415 schools was widely published by media outlets 12 days ago.

        Though officials at the Ohio Department of Education apologized Monday for the calculation error that mislabeled 203 schools as failing, many educators here say it's too little too late.

        “We were shocked when we saw our name on the list, because we had analyzed our scores and the rules,” said Norwood Schools Superintendent Barbara Rider, who knew immediately Norwood View Elementary shouldn't be on the list.

        “We knew it was a mistake. But the damage had been done. People read the stories ... and decide not to move to a community or to a neighborhood school.”

        She said she spent part of her weekend trying to clear the name of the school, which improved its reading scores 34 percentage points in five years and math scores by 28 percentage points.

        The now-notorious preliminary list was released to media July 19 as part of a new federal law to hold low-achieving schools accountable. No one could have anticipated the list would be cut in half because of a calculation error.

    Area schools mistakenly listed on the state's preliminary list of underachieving schools:
   Cincinnati Public Schools: Burton, Chase, Hyde Park, McKinley, Midway, Mount Airy, Quebec Heights, Sayler Park, Vine and Washington Park elementaries.
   Hamilton County: Lockland Elementary in Lockland City Schools; Houston Elementary in Northwest Local Schools; Norwood View Elementary in Norwood City Schools.
   Butler County: Van Buren Elementary in Hamilton City Schools; Jefferson Elementary and Mayfield Elementary in Middletown City Schools.
        The final roster, to be released in August, will be important to parents because the law requires school districts to offer students transportation out of failing schools this fall. Districts must offer them transportation to more successful schools within the district, where space is available. Poor students who are low achievers have priority.

        Educators here say they received dozens of calls from parents asking how they could get their children out of those failing schools. And some teachers, who toiled yearlong to raise students' test scores, say they felt beaten down and defeated when they saw their schools on the list.

        “This really was such a letdown to the teachers and some of the parents,” said Pam Dixon, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Sayler Park Elementary School, located at the western-most point of Cincinnati Public Schools district. “A lot of times, as soon as people hear the school isn't doing anything, they'll move.”

        Sayler Park, which was mistakenly placed on the list, is situated near the Indiana state border and close to Three Rivers and Oak Hills school districts.

        Sue Taylor, the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers union, called the state's mistake “inexcusable.” Ten Cincinnati schools were mislabeled as underachieving.

        The schools that should be on the list are those that didn't improve proficiency test rates by at least 2.5 percentage points in fourth- or sixth-grade reading or math for two years in a row. They also had fewer than 42 percent of those students show proficiency in reading or math.

        In some cases, schools were mislabeled because they didn't have a fourth or sixth grade.

        State officials said they were trying to comply with numerous media requests for the list of underachieving schools, and they warned on July 19 that changes were imminent because schools had 30 days to verify the data.

        “We did not issue a preliminary list that we anticipated would have a significant problem,” said Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Patti Grey.

        “As soon as we identified the problem, we did the right thing. And frankly we're taking our licks over it, but we're going to take them. We made an error. What is the right thing parents teach their children? You be honest, you fix it, and you move forward. We believe that we have done that as quickly as we could.”


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