Although it's a month late and a few pieces of data short, the state report card information released this week can give residents an idea of how local school districts performed in the 2011-12 academic year.
As the state auditor continues to investigate attendance irregularities in some districts, the Ohio Department of Education made available on its website a spreadsheet showing how third- through 11th-graders in districts and individual schools performed on the Ohio Achievement Assessment and Ohio Graduation Test, what their graduation rates were and whether those schools met adequate yearly progress and value-added measures. Absent were the attendance data in question, a Performance Index score and the familiar overall rating that classified districts on a scale of "academic emergency" to "excellent with distinction."
The test scores and graduation rate - all considered preliminary until the probe is finished and the final data is released - account for 25 of the 26 indicators that make up the Performance Index, with attendance being the 26th.
Wolf Creek Local Schools met state requirements in all 25 of the released categories, and Superintendent Bob Caldwell said he's confident the district's untainted attendance data will also hit the mark.
"We believe that it is our best year in terms of indicators," he said. "That means that our students, our community and our staff all have buy-in that (students are) being taught what they need to be taught."
To meet a test-based indicator, at least 75 percent of students must test proficient in a subject area in grades three through 10. That threshold rises to 85 percent for 11th-grade tests. The benchmark for graduation rate is 90 percent.
Last year, Wolf Creek met all but one indicator, fifth-grade math, with 66.7 percent of students testing proficient. This year, that rate was 80.5 percent and the sixth-graders totaled 90.2 percent.
The only other schools in the county to meet every indicator, minus attendance, were Beverly-Center and Little Hocking elementaries. Last year, each of those schools missed just one.
Caldwell said he expects the final data to translate to another "excellent" rating for the Wolf Creek district, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.
Wolf Creek, like four of the other five public school districts in Washington County, did not meet the adequate yearly progress measure, which assesses whether students are improving at the required rate. Caldwell attributed that to one student subgroup, those with special needs, not making AYP.
"Obviously, that gives us targets to work toward," he said.
Fort Frye Local Schools was alone in the county in making AYP, which Superintendent Tom Gibbs said is a great achievement. However, he said there are multiple ways to make AYP and the data released does not shed any light on how Fort Frye did it or why other districts, like Warren Local where Gibbs is also superintendent, did not.
In previous years, more detailed information was available to districts and the general public. But to obtain it now, officials would have to go through the cumbersome process of counting each individual student's score and matching him or her to the proper subgroups
"Without knowing all of the numbers, without having more detail, it's not especially beneficial from a school district perspective," Gibbs said.
The value-added measure assesses whether students are learning a year's worth of material in a year's time, and was released for districts and buildings. But Gibbs said a breakdown of value-added data for individual students and teachers is still being withheld.
"That's the more helpful information for us, because the goal here is to use the testing information to help teachers improve what they're doing," he said. "So it is a bit frustrating that here we are, the first nine weeks is nearly complete and we still don't have that information."
John Charlton, associate director of communications for the Ohio Department of Education, said that data is expected to be made available to districts on Monday and Oct. 9.
What is known
Gibbs said people who have a basic understanding of the state report card process can "come up with a guesstimate of where a district could end up" based on the data released. But he's not sure how many people will seek the data out.
"In the absence of media attention to this, how many people actually get on the ODE website and pull up a spreadsheet?" he said.
Gibbs said he expects Fort Frye and Warren to both receive effective ratings when all is said and done. Beverly-Center, Barlow-Vincent and Little Hocking elementaries, as well as Warren High School, will likely earn excellent ratings, with Warren and Lowell elementaries expected to be designated effective. At a recent Fort Frye Local Board of Education meeting, Gibbs said Salem-Liberty looks likely to land somewhere between effective and continuous improvement, the rating it received for 2010-11.
Warren met 21 of 25 indicators this year, compared to 23 of 26 last year. Fort Frye reached 23 indicators this year, the same number as last year, with attendance still to be counted.
Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming said he is still reviewing the information released and cautioned that the data is still considered preliminary.
Marietta met 20 indicators according to that preliminary data, and attendance could bring the district up to the same number, 21, as last year. Out-going director of teaching and learning Jason Smith has said the district made improvements in several areas over last year, including getting higher scores on indicators students met in 2010-11.
Belpre City Schools met 17 indicators in 2010-11, but just 12 so far for the most recent academic year.
"While we're not satisfied with the number of indicators we got, we are satisfied that our teachers and kids are working hard and improving all the time," Superintendent Tony Dunn said.
One thing that must be considered when looking at Belpre's data is the size of the schools and classes. Belpre Elementary met two of nine indicators, but was within 3 percent of meeting three more. Another three at the high school were also missed by just 3 percent.
"When you've got cohorts that are less than 100, every kid is more than 1 percent," Dunn said. "When you break it down any further, we're a couple kids and a couple questions (for those kids) away from hitting that indicator."
Dunn said any data can be useful, but it depends on how it is viewed.
"Do you want to use it to get better? Or do you want to use it to bash people?" he said.
Frontier Local Schools met 13 indicators this year and 14 last year. Lawrence and Newport Elementary schools met two of seven and three of nine indicators, respectively, down from five each last year. Yet both schools met AYP and value-added requirements.
"Sometimes you can have a lower score but you meet the other standards," said Frontier board of education President Jeff Lauer, who noted he hadn't had an opportunity to look over the data yet.
Like Dunn, Lauer said multiple factors must be considered when evaluating the data.
"You have to look at all the factors and evaluate it on all the information," Lauer said.
Charlton said the final data would be released after the state auditor's investigation is complete. Auditor Dave Yost told the state board of education earlier this month he hoped to have it wrapped up by the first of the year.
The probe that led to the delay in report cards was sparked by allegations that three districts in Columbus, Toledo and suburban Cincinnati had altered attendance records. Whether the changes were honest mistakes or deliberate attempts to bolster their test scores is one factor being examined.
The Associated Press reported that an investigator's preliminary report found the Toledo City school district did not violate state law when it withdrew and re-enrolled habitually truant students. Columbus' superintendent has announced her retirement at the end of the current school year but says the investigation did not prompt her decision. Meanwhile, the superintendent of the Lockland district near Cincinnati was fired and is suing to get her job back.
Some other districts have been asked for additional data, including Warren. Gibbs said all districts who participated in an expedited audit process based on past good performance were subject to the additional scrutiny, but there were no irregularities that specifically flagged Warren.
"I have no concern about it whatsoever," Gibbs said.