Saturday, September 04, 1999

6 area schools get top rating

But CPS called an 'academic emergency'

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Six Southwest Ohio school districts met the state's top academic standards on a trial run of report cards that will be issued to parents early next year.

        The six — Forest Hills, Indian Hill, Madeira, Mariemont and Wyoming in Hamilton County and Mason in Warren County — are the only school districts in Greater Cincinnati labeled “effective” by the Ohio Department of Education.

        Those districts met at least 26 of 27 minimum performance standards for 1998-99 proficiency test scores, attendance rates and graduation rates.

        Cincinnati Public Schools again ranked in the department's bottom category, “academic emergency,” meaning the district met eight or fewer standards.

        Schools that fail to improve will face increasing forms of state intervention, including in the most extreme cases the threat of a state takeover.

        State officials cautioned the information is tentative and could change after school districts check the accuracy of data they sent to the Education Department. But the reports provide a glimpse into how schools will fare once the state standards take effect next year.

        “It's premature to use the data for purposed of drawing conclusions until we have the final data each of you signs off on in November,” Susan Tave Zelman, the state's superintendent of public instruction, wrote in a memo to local superintendents.

        Scores on 11 of the 27 standards could change based on tests taken during the summer, Dr. Zelman said.

        While glad to see Madeira's scores regarded highly, Dr. Michele Hummel, superintendent, said the preliminary report is just one part of the picture of how well a school is doing.

        “It's more than just test scores,” she said.

        Such reports don't take into consideration is the involvement of parents, the community and students themselves in the district, she said.

        Eileen Houston-Stewart, CPS spokeswoman, noted that Friday's figures are preliminary. The district feels it can challenge a few of the figures on the report, she said, and raise its score in the final report.

        “We feel we are moving in the right direction,” Ms. Houston-Stewart said. “We are close in a couple of standards, we have a couple of schools we have redesigned and made gains in important areas.”

        CPS Superintendent Steven Adamowski predicted last spring the district would jump into the next category, “academic watch,” by next year.

        The state made it tougher on schools by adding new standards, including scores on the science portion of the proficiency tests and the sixth-grade tests. Other test categories include reading, writing, math and citizenship.

        A district is considered effective for achieving 26 or more of the 27 standards; in need of continuous improvement for 14 to 25; on academic watch for 9 to 13, and in academic emergency for eight or fewer.

        Under a 1997 academic reform law, districts ranked in the lower three categories will be required to develop formal plans to address the problems and to show improvement annually.

        Lawmakers ordered the creation of school report cards in an attempt to get parents and community leaders more interested in pressuring schools to change.

        Twenty-two states, including Ohio, have academic bankruptcy laws allowing varying levels of intervention when student achievement in a district or school dips below tolerable levels, according to a survey by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

        State legislators approved more stringent rules governing school performance nine years ago. But when school officials and some lawmakers complained that the rules were too tough, the Education Department essentially shelved them.

        Moreover, critics say, the takeover option won't necessarily solve problems that local school boards have struggled to solve. They point to the Cleveland Public Schools, which already has been under state control but continues to report dismal test scores.

        Even less radical forms of state intervention can fail to live up to the declarations of lawmakers and education leaders. Kentucky, for instance, scrapped sanctions for schools deemed educationally deficient, in part because some traditionally high-performing districts complained they could not make the grade.


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