BY DANA DiFILIPPO
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) would be considered in a state of academic emergency if a draft district report card the Ohio Department of Education released this week holds true next year.
CPS met only four of 18 state standards that measure proficiency test scores and student attendance and dropout rates.
Besides reading and writing on the ninth- and 12th-grade tests, CPS students consistently performed far below the state minimums on proficiency tests, particularly on the fourth-grade tests, according to the report cards.
CPS' dropout and absentee rates also failed to meet goals.
But CPS administrators say the figures paint a more dismal picture than exists.
The state's report cards average three years of data, short-changing any gains a district may make yearly.
"We're very pleased with most ninth- and 12th-grade test scores," Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Ware said. "Are they where we want them to be? No, but they're improving. And the state report card doesn't show that."
Agreed school board Vice President Lynwood Battle: "The big flaw is that they average three years of numbers. As our curve continues to go up, the report cards don't give us credit for that."
Lawmakers passed a law last year requiring district and school report cards to be issued to each of Ohio's 611 public school districts by 1999. Schools can be rated "effective," "continuous improvement," "academic watch" or "academic emergency."
Although the ratings are meant to ensure accountability, it's unclear what they'll mean for each district. State education officials aim to outline what intervention or assistance will accompany the ratings in coming months.
Besides proficiency data, the report cards include graduation, discipline, spending and enrollment numbers.
They also contain comparison figures, so parents can see how their district compares with the state average and with similar school systems, as identified by size, poverty level, urban or rural location, district property tax wealth and family income, education levels and professions.
This week's report cards are a draft and weren't provided to all parents. Officials are experimenting to determine the most effective way to distribute them. Next year's report cards will be given to all parents.
CPS already produces its own annual district report card; "Measuring Up" was introduced two years ago. It includes annual, school-by-school figures on proficiency test scores, suspensions and expulsions, graduation and dropout rates and related data.
The district also already is working to raise student attendance and lower dropout rates.
Lionel Brown, the district's deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction, presented strategies to keep kids in school to the school board last week. Board members now are considering that report for implementation.
Other data in the CPS report card included:
Nearly 45 percent of CPS students are "economically disadvantaged," compared to 15.9 percent of students statewide and 47.6 percent of students in similar districts.
Teacher attendance rate at CPS was about 95 percent, lining up evenly with the state's and similar districts' averages.
Cincinnati spent $6,789 per pupil -- more than the state average of $5,939 per pupil but less than the $7,048 that similar districts spent.