With a mixed bag of test results, growth in early literacy and a jump in the graduation rate, Akron Public Schools expects to maintain its overall “D” rating from the Ohio Department of Education.
The state will release the full report card to the public later this week, but Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams gave the Akron board a preview during a meeting Monday night.
With the exception of the “value-added” component, which measures growth, the state has not yet given districts their letter grades. But with the data to support each metric, Akron officials were able to calculate the district’s expected grades in each of six measured categories and the overall score, McWilliams said.
The district increased its score one letter grade in two components — graduation rate and early literacy — which McWilliams said the district had likely never done before. The district’s score dropped a letter grade in one component, closure of the achievement gap.
Test scores, which count for 20 percent of the district's overall grade, showed a 7-point jump in third-grade reading. Nearly 50 percent of students in that grade are now considered proficient, which means they read on grade level.
That helped bump the district's early literacy letter grade from a "D" on the 2018 report card to an expected "C" this year.
That growth, McWilliams said, is the culmination of about four years' worth of work focusing on early reading. Last year's third-graders were the first group of students to benefit from all four years of that intense focus, which has included increased one-on-one interventions and monitoring of students' progress.
"We think that’s the ticket for this kind of gain," she said.
The reading scores in other grade levels, however, were a roller coaster of gains and losses.
Previously, 49 percent of fourth-grade students tested at least proficient in reading. Last year, that number dropped to 41.7 percent.
The district also saw almost a 10-point drop in sixth grade, but a 7-point jump in seventh grade.
In math, the district also saw mixed results, with many small improvements and just one significant dip, a 5-point drop in Algebra I. While the district went from a “B” to a “C” in closing achievement gaps, students in historically underperforming groups made progress catching up in every level of math.
The district's overall performance index, which includes all test scores, increased slightly from a 67 to 67.2, accounting for a “D” in achievement.
In its "value-added" score, which measures how much students learned in a year compared with their peers across the state, the district earned an "F," McWilliams said. The score is based on three years' worth of data averaged together, so it's not purely reflective of last year. But because it measures all students on a curve, while Akron students showed growth in some areas and declined in others, the "F" shows they were outpaced.
The district does not yet have data for the rest of the state, which will be helpful for putting Akron's numbers in context, McWilliams said. In addition, she knows the majority of Akron’s 47 schools earned an “A,” “B” or “C” in their value-added scores, which would seem in conflict with the district’s “F” in growth.
“It just doesn’t seem to make sense that our schools are doing well but the district summary is an ‘F,’ ” McWilliams said.
Akron's four-year graduation rate, which is released on a one-year delay, rose from 76.4 percent for the class of 2017 to 79.8 percent in 2018, raising the district's letter grade score from an “F” to a “D” in that category.
The increase, McWilliams said, is likely partly due to some alternative pathways to graduation that were offered in 2018, including a loosening of testing requirements. A district push to increase the number of industry credentials students earn, another possible path to graduation, did not come until the 2018-19 school year, meaning the district could see a bigger bump in the rate next year.
Board members expressed gratitude to McWilliams for highlighting several strengths for the district, noting test scores never capture the full picture of a school.
Board member Patrick Bravo said it would be “patently unfair” to let the “D” grade define Akron students.
Fellow board member Lisa Mansfield said she was encouraged by growth and initiatives and partnerships getting underway in the district, including the launching of the College and Career Academies this fall.
“I have a positive feeling about where we are going, going forward,” Mansfield said. “We never make excuses. We’re never saying we don’t accept the results. We’re just saying we’re not done yet.”
Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.