Districts receive state report card grades

Washington County schools range from "B" to "D"

With the annual state report cards released Thursday morning by the Ohio Department of Education, administrators and staff of Washington County’s six school districts were poring over the data to sift out where their strengths, weaknesses and chances for improvement lie in the mass of information.

Along with featuring six general categories, the department also gave each district an overall grade.

Although the results issued are simple letter grades, the input process, using data supplied by school districts ranging from end-of-course exam marks to attendance records, is complex. Taking it apart to determine useful trend indicators is equally challenging.

Brian Rentsch, superintendent of Frontier Local Schools, said Thursday about his district’s solid C grade, “It depends on what sort of person you are, glass half-full or half-empty.”

“Until you dig into the details, you can’t see the trees because you’re too stuck on looking at the forest,” he said.

The state uses dozens of data points for each district to arrive at letter grades in the six categories measured, and the overall grade. The guide for parents and the general public is more than 30 pages, and a webinar available on the Ohio Department of Education website lasts 30 minutes, indicators of how complex the process is.

In looking at what he termed “the trees,” Rentsch said, school administrators and staff can get a detailed picture of student performance in individual areas, providing an indication of where the district needs to shore up its efforts and where it can continue to apply methods that appear to be doing well for its students.

Frontier, for example, went from an F to a C in gap closing, the measurement of how well disadvantaged students, such as those who have disabilities, come from impoverished backgrounds or are visible minorities, have closed what is termed the achievement gap. The district also moved up one mark, from a B to an A, in progress, which is intended to measure how well students over a three-year period are increasing their academic achievement compared to the Ohio average. The category involved weighted academic averages that include three groups of students – gifted, those with disabilities, and those in the lowest 20 percent of academic achievement.

Overall, Rentsch said, he was pleased the district got a solid C as an overall mark, explaining that it means the district is advancing on pace with the Ohio average.

“This isn’t, ‘Oh, I got a C, that’s mediocre,'” he said. “All in all, if I take a look at each individual component, we’ve shown marked improvement.”

The district’s only regression was in K-3 Literacy, which went from a C to a D.

Rentsch noted that smaller districts like Frontier, which will have a 2019 graduating class of about 50, are subject to bigger year-over-year swings because the performance of individual students,whether high achievements or low, have an outsized impact on the district’s overall rating.

Fort Frye Local Schools received a B as an overall grade, the highest in the county.

“It’s something to be proud of,” superintendent Stephanie Starcher said. “Only 28 or 29 districts out of the more than 600 in the state got a B. I want to congratulate the staff, the students and the community for this.”

Fort Frye improved in three of the six graded components – achievement, gap closing and K-3 Literacy – and held its ground in the other three, with a C in progress, an A in graduation rate and C in prepared for success.

Starcher was cautious about assuming too much from year-over-year data.

“The thresholds change for the letter grades, and districts can suddenly drop or gain from one year to the next,” she said. “I think it’s important that we don’t look at one single year report card but rather try to identify long term trends over five to 10 years. What we know is accurate about our card is that we’re moving in a good direction.”

Being able to make detailed comparisons with other Ohio schools is useful, she said.

“What we go back and look at is, are we higher or lower than the state average, and work on areas where we might be at or below the average,” she said. “We have a staff committee that helps us focus on what we might need to do differently … It’s important not to use areas where we see room for improvement to browbeat our staff, they are just areas where we need to rethink what we’re doing.”

The district’s biggest jump was in Gap Closing, which went from a D to an A. Starcher said that was the outcome of a long term strategy.

“We have been looking at bringing the at-risk population up to level for several years, giving them extra help during the school day, setting up more intervention teams, using small group instruction,” she said.

Belpre City Schools was given an overall mark of D, receiving Fs in the categories of K-3 Literacy and Prepared for Success. Superintendent Tony Dunn said he believes incorrect data was used by the state department for the K-3 Literacy mark and possibly for the Prepared for Success mark as well.

“We have real questions, they don’t have our data correct. We don’t have the data and we don’t think it’s available to the Ohio Department of Education, either,” Dunn said. “Obviously, if we’ve got some problems with the data in the areas that make that up, we’re going to have problems with the overall grade.”

Belpre did make some headway, however. Its Gap Closing mark went from D to B. Also, he said, students showed improved performance in the third year of the AIR (American Institute of Research) English Language Arts Grade 3 test.

“We made progress in 16 of those areas over last year,” he said.

Dunn said he’s proud of the district’s leap from a D to a B in Gap Closing.

“It looks at subgroups of kids, how they are doing compared to the general population, and that B means we are improving, that kids in those classifications are making progress and closing that gap for the underserved, underachieving students, the disabled, the economically disadvantaged, kids of color,” he said. “I’m really pleased about that.”

Dunn, along with other superintendents in the county, has been a critic of the letter grade system, in part because it attempts to convey a massive complexity of information in vastly simplified form.

In looking at the district’s data in depth, such as its progress in specific achievement areas, Dunn said he hopes parents and the community will look more deeply into the available information to form a more comprehensive idea about their public schools.

“That’s the kind of thoughtful approach we hope parents and community members take,” he said.

Marietta City Schools also received an overall mark of D, improving from an F to a C in Gap Closing but falling from a C to a D in K-3 Literacy. Administrators could not be contacted for comment on Thursday.

Warren Local Schools received an overall mark of C, having dropped from a B to a C in K-3 Literacy and from a C to a D in Progress, but moving up from an F to a D in Gap Closing.

Wolf Creek Local Schools received an overall mark of C, going up in Achievement from D to C, Gap Closing from F to A, and Graduation Rate from B to A, but dropping in Prepared for Success from C to D and Progress from B to C.

Administration at Warren and Wolf Creek did not respond to calls for comment.

Ohio Department of Education report cards, Washington County school districts, overall grades

•Belpre: D.

•Fort Frye: B.

•Frontier: C.

•Marietta: D.

•Warren: C.

•Wolf Creek: C.

Source: Ohio Department of Education.

•To see all the data behind the grades: education.ohio.gov/Topics/Data/Report-Card-Resources