Monday, September 12, 2011

This blog is rated 'Excellent with Distinction'

The Ohio Department of Education has been issuing report cards for the state’s 612 school districts for some time. And every time it does, your community daily newspaper rushes to print a long list of districts, their rankings and an accompanying story.

But the story really only focuses on one thing – the designation ODE gives each district each year: “Excellent with Distinction,” “Excellent,” “Effective,” “Continuous Improvement,” “Academic Watch” and “Academic Emergency.”

The “Excellent with Distinction” designation is relatively new and in my mind a bunch of baloney. Actually, the whole report card thing is malarkey, but I’ll concede that there ought to be some accountability to the taxpayers even if they’re the biggest problems.

(Parents are the key to the test scores – not the schools. See East Holmes below.)

A district gets awarded the “Excellent with Distinction” designation by achieving what ODE calls “value-added measure.”

On the report cards, ODE tells parents, “Your district’s value-added rating represents the progress your district has made with its students since last school year. In contrast, achievement scores represent students’ performance at a point in time.”

Well, that seems to be as clear as a foggy day in October. I think it means if your students did really badly in a subject last year but really good this year then you get value-added points.

“Excellent with Distinction” districts in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties are New Philadelphia, Tuscarawas Valley and East Holmes.

“Excellent” districts are Dover, Garaway and West Holmes.

“Effective” districts are Claymont, Indian Valley, Newcomerstown and Strasburg.

Anyway, one would think that “Excellent with Distinction” districts would have better numbers than “Excellent” districts, but that’s not necessarily the case. Garaway, for example, had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2010-11. No other district could claim that achievement.

To get a good accurate picture of your school district, retrieve the report card and read all of it. If you really feel the need to compare to another district, get that one, too. To write this commentary, I downloaded all of them for Tuscarawas and Holmes counties.

So, with apologies to editorial writers throughout Ohio, there are some truths when it comes to evaluating public education in Ohio and they can’t be found on the report cards.

Primarily among them is the per capita income of a particular district’s residents – the richer the district, the better the test numbers.

(East Holmes might be the exception to that rule. East Holmes parents clearly want their children to do well in school. Perhaps family values carry more weight than hefty paychecks.)

Here’s the ultimate truth: School districts in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties do a fine job educating children because of excellent teachers, competent administrators and caring parents.

In many cases, the districts are doing a terrific job in spite of a large number of dysfunctional homes within their borders.

OK, so here I go again.

Before you jump on an online forum to spew hate toward a neighboring school district, or pound your chest in ultimate small-town bravado, take a few minutes to actually read that report card, which is available online on the ODE’s website. (Google “ODE Ohio School District Report Cards.”)

And be skeptical of those high-brow editorials. Whoever is writing those isn’t reading the report cards either.


The events of Sept. 11, 2001, were so overwhelming that I have trouble putting the day in historical perspective. It seems like only yesterday.

I was kicking around the house that morning, due at work in a couple of hours. City editor Kathy Vaughan called with the news.

A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, she said.

“What should we do?” she asked.

I was thinking Piper Cub. She was thinking airliner.

“Turn on the TV,” she said.

I did, of course. And then it was time to get to work.

There were calls to the kids, of course. One was at the University of Dayton and the other was at Ohio University. Jets were scrambling at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, causing sonic booms. Athens was eerily quiet. Both kids were shook.

The images we viewed that morning are etched in the brain.

Normalcy returned but with a nod to security. We take our shoes off now before we board airplanes. We ask a lot of “what if” questions when we’re at big events.

We are a resilient sort. Think of the weather this year – tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires.

We get through it, eventually. We have to, you know. We can’t live in fear. It’s not American.

Maybe that’s the historical perspective.

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1 comment:

Jennie said...

Excellent commentary, and spot on as far as school report cards go. We need to to put these tests and their results under a microscope and start illustrating that high stakes testing is not a reliable measurement of a student, a school, or a teacher.