Three local districts got extra credit for exceeding expectations and jumped two levels on their annual state report cards, which were released Wednesday.
Ohio made it harder for school districts to increase their ratings by showing greater-than-expected progress on this year's report cards.
However, the Springfield, Plain and Wooster systems bumped their ratings because of their scores on the ''value-added'' portion of the card a measure that determines whether students have made a year's worth of progress in a year's time.
Springfield, in Summit County, jumped from Continuous Improvement (a ''C'' grade) to Excellent (an ''A'' grade).
Plain in Stark County and Wooster in Wayne County both moved from Effective (a ''B'' grade) to Excellent with Distinction, an A+ grade that is possible only by achieving above expected growth in value-added.
Districts can exceed, meet or fail a year's worth of growth in a year's time on the value-added measure.
Ohio basically made it tougher to score above expected growth, which increases the state's confidence that those scores are truly exceptional.
''Because we have greater confidence, we can sort of rely on those scores a lot more than we used to,'' state Superintendent Stan Heffner said Wednesday after the report cards were released.
Springfield fell two notches last year to Continuous Improvement. The district had been rated Excellent the previous two years.
''I was disappointed with last year's Continuous Improvement,'' Superintendent William Stauffer said. ''Everybody was disappointed, and we took it as a challenge, and we worked a lot harder.''
Springfield exceeded expected growth on the ''value-added'' measure this year despite the stricter definition.
''It bumped us up a designation and got us the Excellent rating,'' Stauffer said. ''Last year, we didn't get the value-added.''
Springfield might owe some of its improvement to a freshman orientation program it has developed over the past three years.
About 210 incoming ninth-graders started school Wednesday, a day ahead of the rest of the high school. They broke into small groups that were each assigned an upper-class mentor whom they can turn to throughout the year for help.
The freshmen walked through a mock schedule to make sure they could find their classes. In the afternoon, they gathered on the football field to participate in activities designed to explore such themes as resisting peer pressure, gossip and fights, while staying focused on academic goals.
''Our numbers have shown over the last three years less fights, less failures,'' said Megan Babcock, a family and consumer science teacher who helped develop the program.
Plain Local Schools didn't like its report card last year, either. The district had been Excellent for three years before dropping a level.
''We got hit a little bit in the mouth last year when we went to Effective,'' Superintendent Brent May said. ''We put the challenge out to the staff last August.''
Reading scores up
Last year, Plain struggled with fifth- and eighth-grade scores. It pushed up reading scores across the district, which helped lift Plain into Excellent with Distinction.
''We saw marked improvement in fifth- and eighth-grade in reading as well as in science,'' May said.
Wooster made the same leap from Effective to Excellent with Distinction.
The district focused on improving scores for all students, not only the ones who fall short, and that helped Wooster exceed expected growth and get the A+ rating.
Wooster saw improved performance of the better students in fifth-grade math and bigger gains from the struggling students in seventh-grade math.
''We had so many students who far exceeded what they did a year ago,'' Superintendent Michael Tefs said. ''We're starting to really concentrate on growth more than just somebody passing a test.''
Wadsworth, the only district in Medina County to win the A+ rating for the third year in a row, also looked for improvement at all levels.
''A lot of districts, I think, focus on that low-performing kid,'' Superintendent Dale Fortner said. ''And they might hope the higher-performing kid continues to score well, and that may not always be the case.''
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.