While there are some areas of concern, Akron Public Schools Superintendent David James gave a largely positive state of the schools address on Tuesday.

“Again this year, our test scores are ranked No. 1 compared to other large urban districts across Ohio in the vast majority of subjects across all tested grade levels,” James told a group of nearly 400 at the Akron Press Club luncheon at Quaker Square. “Having achievement results among the top urban districts in Ohio, we have now fixed our sights on competing with our suburban districts in Summit County … and we’re seeing positive progress.”

James lamented the emphasis that has been placed on state report card grades that measure a district’s performance.

“Unfortunately, I think the state report card has become irrelevant. Why? Because you can take our worst-performing school in the district and you can still see kids who are successful,” James said after his speech. “One grade cannot tell you the full story of a school and how well a school is doing. It’s a lot more complicated.”

James said it’s also a problem when the state keeps changing tests every year, so it’s hard to reach a moving target. This is the third year in a row of test changes.

James said Akron Public Schools is a $562 million dollar operation when you include the general fund, federal funds and construction funds, but state funding is not equal when low-performance charter schools can take $38 million from Akron.

“At some point I believe when people say they are concerned about student achievement I honestly think they believe that, but it’s the methods that they use of pitting one district to another,” James said. “When you look at the support we need to do our jobs it’s like there are double standards … you have the private, for-profit people out there and they don’t have to live by the same rules that we do, and it makes it difficult.”

With new, more rigorous graduation requirements, Akron schools’ four-year graduation rate fell by four points from 78 percent to 74 percent last year, earning an overall grade of F on the state report card for Akron.

But James noted significant improvements in other areas last year:

• Akron’s kindergarten, first- and second-grade students were reading on grade level for the first time in the history of district.

• 99 percent of third-graders were reading on track, the highest percentage in all high poverty districts in Ohio. James said only four third-graders were retained under the state’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee because they were not reading on track.

• The five-year graduation rate increased to 84 percent.

• The district is No. 1 on nearly every single indicator compared to Ohio’s large urban districts and is no longer the lowest in Summit County and is competitive with other districts in Summit.

• Students earned nearly $11.5 million in scholarships.

James listed successes at individual schools.

“Miller South and the Akron School of the Arts at Firestone High School continue to offer our students clear, successful pathways in the fields of visual and performing arts,” he said, adding that the district offers 32 career education programs.

He said Case Elementary and Litchfield Middle schools are making great progress toward adopting the International Baccalaureate Program. Resnik, King and Portage Path are next.

Buchtel is a statewide success model of a district combining local resources and partnerships with federal funds to transform a lower-performing school into a STEM learning community.

And, he said, plans continue to convert North High School into a health care college and career academy.

Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or mmiller@thebeaconjournal.com.