Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Schools judged by two standards

Withrow's dilemma is typical

By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer

Withrow University High School will learn today if it's labeled an excellent school by the state, or an under-performing school by the federal government.

Or both.

Preliminary results show that the Hyde Park public school received both labels based on last year's test scores.

Students file out of Norwood High School after the first day of classes.
(Enquirer photo/SARAH CONARD)
The state label is based on results from the Ohio Proficiency Tests, which last year's 10th-grade students are required to pass to graduate.

The federal label is based on results of the Ohio Graduation Test, which those same 10th-grade students had to take last year but did not have to pass. (This year's 10th-graders are the first who must pass the graduation test. Proficiency tests are being phased out.)

When Ohio releases ratings today for schools and districts, schools like Withrow University could face dueling federal and state ratings. School officials worry that the ratings will confuse parents and discourage teachers.

Withrow University Principal Sharon Johnson said it's not fair to have two labels based on different criteria.

"I don't think they should measure the same set of students on two different tests - one they had to pass and one they didn't have to pass," she said.

Cincinnati Public School District appealed Withrow University's federal rating. If the label sticks, parents will receive letters notifying them that the school didn't meet federal achievement goals - even though it met state goals.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, requires schools to show progress on test scores and student achievement. If they don't show enough progress, the schools are labeled as underperforming.

But Ohio created its own school accountability system that also rates schools under legislation passed in 1997. The problem in Ohio, Cincinnati school officials say, is that the ratings are based on different criteria from different tests.

Withrow University received the top state rating of "excellent" because at least 85 percent of students passed all five parts of the proficiency tests, and the school met its requirements for graduation and attendance.

Johnson said she and her staff threw their energy into helping kids pass the proficiency tests because those were required for graduation.

The results helped the school jump three academic categories from the year before, when it was labeled in "academic watch" - the second lowest of the five state rankings.

But while the school directed its energy and resources into the Ohio Proficiency Test, it was also being rated on how well 10th-graders fared on a new test - the Ohio Graduation Test.

Withrow University received the federal label of under-performing because it missed its goals in several areas on the Ohio Graduation Test.

For example, 52 percent of kids were required to pass the math portion of the graduation test, but it just missed with 51.8 percent. The school also missed passing goals in math for specific groups, including low-income and African-American students.

The state says parents should consider both ratings.

"The strength of Ohio's accountability system is that it allows multiple lenses to examine the academic health of each district and building," said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

The different levels give parents a more accurate picture of how well the school is achieving, he said.

This school year, Withrow University's staff will focus on the Ohio Graduation Test. "But right now, we're just really focusing on our excellent rating because our students have come a long way," Johnson said.


E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

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