July 29, 2014

Elyria
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State report card: Lorain Schools in academic emergency

Being one of the two worst ranked school districts in the state is a hard pill to swallow, but that is what Tom Tucker is forced to do just nine weeks into his tenure leading Lorain Schools.

The state released additional report card data Wednesday, including individual designations, which are often the go-to measuring stick used to separate high performing districts from their peers. This year, just two districts — Lorain and Cleveland — received the dismal rating of academic emergency, the lowest rating on the scale.

Lorain met just one of the state’s 26 standards. With 85 percent proficiency being the benchmark, the only indicator met was 11th grade writing. On that test, which is part of the Ohio Graduation Test, 85.4 percent of the juniors scored proficient or better.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but needless to say I am not happy about that,” Tucker said. “When you are not a part of the process for that year, you don’t know what to expect. Going forward I can say the plan is to take a look at every bit of data available because behind every one of those scores is a story.”

Tucker said reading, for example, is an assessment of several skills including fluency and comprehension.

“So, you have to find out where you are weak and address it from there,” he said. “Are our teachers teaching reading? Absolutely, but we have to determine where we are weak if we want to improve.”

Lorain was close in a number of areas — sometimes just a fraction of a percentage point away from reaching the standard.

The 10th grade writing test had a proficiency level of 74.8 percent. The 11th grade reading test scored at 83.5 percent. The state benchmark for attendance is 93 percent and Lorain came in just below that at 92 percent.

“If you look at those numbers, that could be three questions that three kids didn’t get,” he said. “If you can identify the areas where you are close and push those kids just a little bit harder, it becomes two, three or five indicators and it changes your rating.”

On the other side of the spectrum, there are several areas where Lorain is far from reaching the standard. There are areas of concern like eighth grade science, where just 32.6 percent of students passed the test or fifth grade math and science, where 38.2 percent and 38.7 percent of students passed those tests, respectively.

To change the tide in the worst area, Tucker said it will take an across the board assessment from curriculum to teaching style to data analysis. It will be a very methodical plan of attack.

“Every week we have to make sure the students know what they need to know and, if not, re-teach the material until they do,” he said.

The district also did not meet the state’s adequate yearly progress or value-added benchmarks, which measure how much progress students make from year-to-year and if they are learning more than a year’s worth of material.

With just three weeks until Lorain voters are asked to pass a 4.8-mill new money levy, the news from the state could not come at a worse time. But Tucker said he hopes parents think hard before using that as a reason to vote no.

“All I can tell them is if they don’t pass this levy then things won’t get better,” he said. “These scores didn’t come from what we are doing today or what new steps we are implementing today. Before I got here, we had cut kindergarten down to just half day and reduced a number of teaching positions. If we want to move forward, we have to put those things back in place.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.