By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
The Ellet cluster of schools in East Akron is the first in the history of Akron Public Schools to achieve state ratings of excellent or effective.
The district as a whole will retain its ''continuous improvement'' rating on the Ohio report cards to be released statewide on Friday.
The success of the Ellet cluster, one of seven geographic clusters of schools in the city, stood out in a presentation of the results at the school board's meeting on Monday.
Ellet High School, Hyre Middle School, Windemere and Hatton elementary schools all will receive excellent ratings, the equivalent of an A.
Ritzman and Betty Jane elementary schools, like Hatton, moved up a notch from last year. They are rated effective, the equivalent of a B, on the state report cards.
Overall, the district showed improvements in reading scores, but lost ground on math scores with some exceptions, including the new National Inventors Hall of Fame middle school.
The STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) school, which is receiving its first state report card this year, led all other Akron middle schools in sixth grade math.
The STEM school even edged Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, which is the only Akron school to receive the state's highest rating: excellent with distinction.
Other schools showing notable improvement include:
• Findley elementary school jumped two grades from academic emergency to continuous improvement.
• Leggett elementary school which had a 95 percent poverty rate the last time elementary schools in Akron collected poverty data in 2003 is rated effective this year.
• Kent Middle School moved up to an effective rating, because its students progressed further than expected three years in a row on the state's ''value-added'' measure, which tracks individual progress year to year.
Akron as a whole, however, showed below-expected growth this year after exceeding that measure last year.
Reading scores improved overall in fifth through eighth grades following concerted efforts to improve reading in the middle grades.
As a group, African Americans met federal expectations (Annual Yearly Progress) for reading after missing the AYP last year.
Akron as a whole missed AYP for the fifth year in a row, and math scores didn't help.
The percentage of fifth graders passing the test rose from 39.5 to 46.4 percent, which was still well short of the state standard of 75 percent.
Sixth-graders at Litchfield and Hyre middle schools improved enough to just clear the 75 percent bar, but several middle schools slipped in sixth grade math scores, especially Goodyear, Jennings and Perkins middle schools.
''The math was kind of opposite literacy,'' said assistant superintendent Ellen McWilliams. ''Sometimes that happens when you do a heavy focus on literacy . . . and math starts to drop.''
The stakes will go up for this year's ninth-graders. They'll be the first class required to pass Algebra II (instead of just Algebra I) under Ohio's new graduation requirements.
The sixth-graders at the STEM school, which starts classes in its new building next week, led the district on the math test. All 102 students took the test, and 89.2 percent scored proficient or above.
Two-thirds of the sixth-graders scored better than proficient, with 23 considered accelerated and 45 considered advanced, the highest level.
Counting all the state tests students in fifth and sixth grade at the STEM school took, about 27 percent were scored advanced, 27 percent were scored accelerated and 31 percent were scored proficient.
''What we were particularly proud of is the number of kids who were advanced,'' said principal Traci Buckner.
The STEM school fell just short of the 75 percent passage rate for fifth grade math, scoring 72.2 percent.
But the STEM school reached its AYP federal targets for reading and math after it was adjusted to reflect student growth from the last year at their old school and their first year at the STEM school.
Students were selected by lottery drawn equally from the district's seven clusters.
Overall, 81 percent of the fifth- and sixth-grade STEM students who had test scores available from both years either increased their scores by an entire level or stayed the same, Buckner said.
The tests came as a relief for a new school using new curriculum and new teaching methods that focus on problem-solving that cover the standards.
''We didn't focus heavily on teaching to the test,'' Buckner said. ''It is a risk, but I think it's a pretty sure gamble, as long as you're teaching the standards.''
Still, a lot was riding on the school's first test scores, released days before school opens in a new, $14.5 million building on Broadway next week.
''When they came, it was just a huge exhale: like, ok, everything we've been doing, we've been on the right track and we're going to keep doing what we're doing,'' Buckner said.