By Cindy Kranz
Enquirer staff writer
Thirteen local school districts improved their academic performance enough to leap to a higher category on the state's 2003-04 Local Report Cards, released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Education.
Of those 13 districts, three joined the "excellent" category, the highest designation - Milford, Reading and Wayne - bringing the total of excellent schools to 16 in the four-county Southwest Ohio area.
"It's uplifting," Reading Superintendent Scott Inskeep said of the district's top rating. "Now, the challenge is to stay there."
Seniors Jarrod Weatherspoon and Tiffany Cowherd look to the blackboard as teacher Brian Meeron works on an equation in a calculus class at Winton Woods High School Tuesday.
(Enquirer photo/CRAIG RUTTLE)
Click here to view the complete grades report in Acrobat PDF format (220k)
Report-card ratings are based on proficiency-test results, attendance and graduation rates, and student improvement. A school district is rated in one of five categories: excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch and academic emergency.
Milford regained excellent status after slipping to effective last year. Little Miami and Springboro slipped a notch from excellent to effective.
The largest gains locally came in the effective category, especially in Clermont County. West Clermont, Batavia, Bethel-Tate and Goshen all jumped from continuous improvement into the second-highest category. In Hamilton County, Deer Park, Finneytown and Southwest also rose to effective. Carlisle in Warren County is now effective, too.
Winton Woods jumped from academic watch to continuous improvement, while Cincinnati Public joined the academic watch category from academic emergency.
Along with Cincinnati, only Middletown and Mount Healthy are in academic watch. No local schools are in academic emergency.
Greater Cincinnati results mirror the gains that were made statewide. Student achievement in Ohio improved in all grades and most subjects, with mathematics leading the way. Reading achievement in the fourth grade continued to climb.
Compared to last year, 30 more school districts and 394 more schools met the top three ratings of excellent, effective and continuous improvement.
In addition, 38 school districts statewide and 347 schools are in academic emergency or academic watch, which is 44 percent fewer districts and 40 percent fewer schools than last year.
Reading, a Hamilton County district of 1,515 students, was in continuous improvement two years ago, effective last year and excellent this year.
The district achieved excellent status by matching its curriculum to state academic standards and providing resources to back it up.
"It was our fourth-grade scores that really improved this year," Inskeep said. "It was based on aligned curriculum and a lot of intervention strategies put in place in both of our elementary schools. It was before school, at lunch time and after-school programs."
In Winton Woods, the district is celebrating an improved rating. The district fell into academic watch a year ago, but regained continuous improvement on this report card.
"It's had a tremendous effect on all of us, psychologically," Superintendent Camille Nasbe said. "The staff is all revved up.
"What we did last year was make sure the kids were assessed regularly. Based on that data, you change instruction.
If the students aren't learning it, then you've got to change what you're doing.
"We were really happy to get the fourth-grade reading (performance indicator). We focused a lot of effort on reading instruction."
Gains at Winton Woods were also made with students who traditionally face challenges in learning.
At Winton Forest, a fourth-grade teaching team increased science scores from 25 percent passing to 73 percent in one year. One-third of the class was special-needs students.
What's more, the district's highest math scores came from Waycross Elementary, where 54 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged. Eighty-four percent of sixth-graders were proficient.
"It does away with all of the stereotypes," Nasbe said. "If students get good instruction, and it's focused, all kids can learn."
Cincinnati Public's results have them performing near the top of the eight large urban districts in the state.
"We really do acknowledge that we have a ways to go before we achieve the results that we want to see in our school district, but we are encouraged by the strong gains we did make in 2003-04," said Janet Walsh, spokeswoman for Cincinnati Public Schools. "We think they're not a fluke. We think they're sustainable."
Meanwhile, West Clermont's focus on literacy is paying off. The 9,000-student district has worked on literacy in the primary grades and is gradually pushing that effort up into the middle and high schools.
"We're ecstatic," Gary Brooks, the district's new superintendent, said.
"It's very gratifying that the hard work of the teachers and students gets some recognition."
Mae Keszei, who has a third-grader at Clough Pike Elementary, wasn't surprised about the district's effective rating and Clough Pike's excellent rating.
"There's just so many innovative, wonderful ideas that are flowing through the school," she said.
"There's a wonderful level of commitment. We have an unprecedented number of volunteers. You try to get on a volunteer list at Clough Pike, and there isn't any room.
" ... Living in an area where you can send your child to a school that is going to offer the best in education is important to all of us."
This is the second year of Ohio's new accountability system, which measures current achievement as well as improvement. It also incorporates adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that rewards achievements of all demographic groups in a school or district. Previously, districts were measured only on the number of state performance indicators they achieved.
The 2003-04 report card includes results from the third-grade reading achievement, the first of the new generation of standardized tests. Also included are results from fourth-, sixth- and ninth-grade proficiency tests.
In Hamilton County, 13 of 22 districts landed in the excellent and effective categories, with 15 meeting AYP. Eight of nine Clermont County districts are excellent or effective, the same number that met progress goals.
Half of Warren County's eight districts were ranked excellent or effective, with five districts meeting AYP requirements. In Butler County, six of the 10 school districts were ranked either effective or excellent. Half of the districts also met AYP.
It's the third year that the Lakota Local School District was ranked excellent but the first year it met AYP. The district continues to be the largest school district in Ohio to meet all performance indicators and now AYP.
Yet, Superintendent Kathleen Klink says the district is still working to improve its scores.
"It's a moving target, " Klink said. "Each year, the AYP measures increase. We can't rest until 100 percent of our students reach 100 percent of the goals 100 percent of the time."
Those goals may be more difficult to meet this year because of budget reductions following defeat of a levy in March. About $7.5 million has been cut from the school budget, despite an enrollment increase anticipated at 500 or more students from a year ago. Fewer dollars are available for teacher training, and class sizes are increasing.
"We're a little bit nervous," said Jon Weidlich, district spokesman. "Anytime you have to reduce what you're doing for students, there's always a danger the results won't be as good."
Sue Kiesewetter and Jennifer Mrozowski contributed to this report.
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