December 20, 2014

Elyria
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County school districts prepare for release of new state grade rankings

ELYRIA — In recent years, the academic improvement of Elyria Schools seemed to be on a straight track headed directly for excellent.

Today, it may look like that train has somewhat jumped the track in the district of more than 6,000 students. The Ohio Department of Education will release yearly report cards for all of the public and community schools in the state, and Elyria is bracing for a lower report when it sees its.

The department plans to make the report cards available to the public on its website at 11 a.m.

Gone are the designations ranging from excellent with distinction to academic emergency and in their place will be a more community-friendly A through F grading system.

Parents understand letter grades, and that is the reason state legislators wanted to go that route.

But just as parents are not happy with failing grades, school officials have prepared themselves to see the kind of grades parents dread from their own students — Cs, Ds and Fs — in some areas.

“There are so many changes in education in Ohio right now that there will have to be a period of adjustment,” Elyria Superintendent Paul Rigda said. “The new accountability system in Ohio is very different than what we have used up to now. But that’s not all, the state has changed the way we teach students, test students and how they arrive at the scores to determine how well we are doing it all.”

As the district’s academic services director, Ann Schloss has known today’s release would catch a lot of parents off guard.

“Our state Superintendent Richard Ross has already told us that most schools will fall lower with these new grades than our previous designations, but it has been designed that way because we weren’t getting a true picture of how districts were performing,” she said.

Damon Asbury, director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said report cards are changing as underlying educational goals in the state are getting tougher.

As such, Elyria will not be alone in experiencing a form of sticker shock.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said officials anticipate that many schools will see poorer grades initially in some areas as a result of the adjustment. The initial jolt is expected to subside as the system is phased in through 2015.

Schloss said once the report card is fully integrated, it will paint a clearer picture of how districts are educating students from the first day of kindergarten to the moment they walk across a stage to receive a diploma.

In the meantime, parents should focus on what will be released today.

The report card will show grades of A through F in nine areas, four of which are new measurements. It will look at how students on grade levels fared on the state tests administered in the 2012-13 school year, how students did individually on those same tests, graduation rates and how much students have learned over the course of one school year.

“Just based on what I know, we are going to see a shift with scores going up and down this year and at least a few years to come,” Schloss said. “But I know the work we have been doing for the last two years. In just a couple of years, we have gone from reaching 10 indicators to 17 indicators under the old accountability system. I have no doubt that once we fully learn the new curriculum, new testing format and new report card system our teachers and students will raise to the top of the charts again.”

Elyria school board President Don Boddy said communicating the change to parents will be key in keeping up the trend of transparency in the district.

“We are always looking at the target being moved further out,” he said. “I don’t know how teachers and administrators can deal with this because the state keeps doing this to us, but like always we will adjust. To be successful, we have always had to work together and it will be no different as we move through this new accountability system.”

Schloss said one of the successes that should be celebrated today is a component known as value-added, which measures how much students grow academically each a year. That is a hard benchmark to meet for an urban district, but Elyria is leading the way in the state.

In just the value-added component, which says Elyria students are learning more than a year’s worth of curriculum each school year, it is 11th in Northeast Ohio and 61 on the state’s more than 800 public and community school districts.

“We know what we are doing in Elyria,” Schloss said. “Could we panic when we see our strengths and weakness? We could, but we don’t. We just dig in and say what can we do next?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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