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School Ratings Are Hard Lessons

Ohanian Comment: I worry that when schools realize they missed achieving a higher rating by "just one student," then the next step will be to identify that student. This isn't malevolence; it's human nature.

Hidden in the complex statistics of the Ohio Department of Education's Local Report Cards are the stories of near-misses.

When the state released the 2003-04 information on school districts' academic performance last week, Princeton and Clermont Northeastern school districts missed the Effective rating by 0.7 of a percentage point. Cincinnati Public missed Continuous Improvement by 0.6 point.

What's more, stories abound about how a district or school missed a performance indicator or a rating by one student or a handful of students. Those near-misses can be frustrating for districts and teachers who are feverishly working to improve test scores to meet state and federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

For example, Madison Local School District had three near-misses that would have bumped it to the Effective level instead of Continuous Improvement.

To get credit for an indicator, 75 percent of students must pass. The Madison schools achieved that level in 11 of 18 Local Report Card indicators but just missed passing 14.

In a small district like Madison, each student accounts for as much as 0.7 to 1.1 percentage points, said David Ulrich, curriculum director.

On the third-grade reading achievement test, just three more passing students would have bumped Madison's score above 75 percent.

One more passing student would have been enough in the fourth-grade science proficiency test. And two more students would have made the difference on the sixth-grade citizenship proficiency test, Ulrich said. Finneytown got an Effective rating, but was close to the even higher Excellent category.

If 12 students had responded correctly to one or two more questions on citizenship, math and science tests, the district might have obtained an Excellent designation.

"It was that close,'' said Alan Robertson, director of Instructional Services.

Among the near-misses in other districts:

Six low-income students did not graduate in 2002-03, which hurt the minimum performance requirements for Amelia High School in West Clermont. Clermont Northeastern missed jumping from Continuous Improvement to Effective by less than 1 point on its overall performance index.

Deer Park missed the fourth-grade science indicator by half a percentage point and the sixth-grade science indicator by 1.1 percentage points. The district still achieved an Excellent rating, but the near-misses left teachers in those subject areas feeling exasperated.

"That sense of improvement feels good, but people have been working hard for a long time. Those teachers worked hard, then to miss it by a half percent, it's very frustrating," Superintendent Barbara Hammel said. "In a district our size where you have some classes smaller than 100 ...one child makes a big difference."


E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com

— Cindy Kranz
Cincinnati Enquirer


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