ELYRIA — The Elyria school district took a step in the right direction.
Having the designation of effective may not be the pinnacle of student achievement in Ohio, where two higher designations — excellent and excellent with distinction — are the sought-after rankings among school officials, but garnering the rating that is the equivalent of a “B” is something the district is willing to celebrate.
The ranking comes from the Ohio Department of Education, which today released report cards measuring student academic achievement in every district in the state.
Mark Sutter, Elyria’s director of academic services, said the designation is well-earned because there are measurable advancements across the board with elementary, middle school and high school students all showing signs of improvement.
“It’s nice to have improvement across the board,” he said Tuesday. “This shows how we work with all students.”
The rating assigned to each district is based on state indicators, a performance index, a federal annual yearly progress rating and a component called value-added, which looks at whether students learned less than, more than or just a year’s worth of material in a school year.
There are 26 indicators that examine grade-level achievement on state tests as well as the district’s graduation and attendance rates. The performance index factors in how well students perform on the tests.
Meanwhile, the federal annual yearly progress results take into account whether subgroups like minorities, the economically disadvantaged and special education students can reach proficient or above on the same tests.
To reach effective, which is something Elyria hasn’t been able to do since 2006, Sutter said each factor the state looks at played a part.
The district reached the state standard on 15 out of 26 indictors. Last year, when the district was ranked as being in continuous improvement, it reached 10 indicators. The performance index, which can be anywhere from 0 to 120 points, for this year was recorded at 91.4 while last year’s performance index was 88.8.
Sutter said students learned a year’s worth of material in the year. But he also said the district did not meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP, because several subgroups are still struggling to score well on state tests. Hitting the proficient mark is harder for special education students and those who are learning English as a second language.
“For an urban district, which is what we are considered, we have done very well this year,” Sutter said. “We still have areas where we need to grow and I think people will see that this school year the schools that receive the extra attention are not the ones they may think.”
The value-added component is a key measure that can change designations by either bringing a school up to a higher level or knocking them down depending on if students are learning more or less than a year’s worth of material.
There is no better example of this phenomenon in Elyria than by looking at Northwood and Westwood middle schools. Both schools started out on pretty even footing, but when the value-added component was factored in, Northwood ended up in academic watch and Westwood, for the first time ever, has earned a rating of excellent.
Westwood students learned more than a year’s worth of material while Northwood students learned less, Sutter said.
“I think Westwood will be our Cinderella story this year,” Sutter said. “There are a lot of people who will wonder how they did it. Westwood is one of those schools that consistently look at their data to know where to focus resources.”
Northwood’s rating means that that school will be Sutter’s project this year. As the director of academic services, Sutter is responsible for the implementation of the instructional program and the integration of the curriculum with state standards.
He will be at Northwood to see what can be done to boost student academic achievement.
“There is no reason why Northwood and Westwood are not scoring the same. Basically, the student make-up is the same,” he said. “But I think it comes down to what I called the three-legged stool approach. To improve, teachers have to know their material, know how to teach their material and know how to reach students so they learn the material.”
Sutter said he plans to have cross-school workshops where teachers from both schools can get together to learn from each other.
Superintendent Paul Rigda said the plan right now, which could change as teachers and building administrators return to the classrooms and offer feedback, is for Sutter to be a bigger presence at Northwood, but not to move in. Sutter will lead the charge toward improvement with assistance from curriculum specialists already employed by the district.
“We will be there to analyze data with them, to put things out there for them to see possible areas of change, but they have to know themselves well enough to know what they can get done and how soon,” Rigda said.
Rigda said Northwood will not be working on a long-term plan.
“This was an unexpected surprise for us that was not a good one and we need to get things turned around right away,” he said.
Other schools that will receive some extra attention this year are Eastern Heights Middle and Oakwood Elementary schools, which are ranked as effective and in continuous improvement, respectively.
Both schools are in their second year of not meeting the value-added component. If that continues next year, Eastern Heights will drop to continuous improvement and Oakwood will go into academic watch.
Northwood also is in danger of staying in academic watch next year if it does not meet the value-added component. A second year in the designation, which equates to a “D” grade, will make the school an EdChoice school and parents will have the option of applying for state funding vouchers to send their children to private schools.
“Clearly, we are celebrating the good news, but academic achievement is something where you can never rest on your laurels. You have to constantly work at improving,” Sutter said.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.