Thursday, March 08, 2001

Low-rated schools see slow, steady progress


Urban districts still have long way to go

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        Children in Ohio's 21 largest urban school districts — who are most at risk for failure — are making steady academic progress and meeting more standards on Ohio's Report Card.

        On average, the so-called Urban 21 districts — which include Hamilton, Middletown and Cincinnati Public Schools in Southwest Ohio — met 6.5 of the 27 standards set by the Ohio Department of Education on the 2001 report card, mailed to Ohio homes last week. That's a 51 percent increase from the 1999 report card average of 4.3 standards met by the Urban 21.

DISTRICT RANKINGS
   How the state's largest urban districts ranked by number of standards met on the last two state report cards.
District     2001     2000
1. Parma     18     17
2. South Western     12     10
3. Hamilton     12     8
4. Cleveland Heights/ University Heights     11     9
5. Middletown     10     7
6. Elyria     9     7
7. Euclid     8     8
8. Lima     6     7
9. Mansfield     6     7
10. Canton     5     5
11. Toledo     5     5
12. Cincinnati     5     6
13. Akron     5     5
14. Columbus     4     5
15. Lorain     4     2
16. Youngstown     4     3
17. Warren     3     2
18. Dayton     3     3
19. Cleveland     3     0
20. E. Cleveland     2     2
21. Springfield     2     3
Source: Ohio Department of Education
        The 2001 report card uses data from the 1999-2000 school year to determine how many standards school districts met. Based on the number of standards met, districts are divided into four categories: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement or effective. All the standards — except high school graduation rate and attendance — are based on what percentage of a district's students pass reading, writing, math, citizenship and science proficiency tests at the fourth, sixth, ninth and 12th grades.

        Three of the Urban 21, including Hamilton and Middletown, made enough progress to move from academic emergency status on last year's report card to academic watch this year. They were among 36 districts statewide to do so.

        “Our kids are going to make it,” said Middletown Schools Superintendent Wayne Driscoll. “They just need a little longer. Many don't have the same experiences and support that suburban or rural students have. We may have the same finish line, but we don't have the same starting line.”

        Experts say urban school districts face obstacles that suburban and rural districts don't. The Department of Education acknowledges that and groups school districts by similar demographics for comparison, says spokeswoman LeeAnne Rogers. Those include poverty level, enrollment, urban setting, diversity of students, parents' education and occupation, population density and percent of land zoned for agriculture.

        “Children attending urban schools come from a greater range of families,” said David Killian, chairman of teacher education at Miami University. “Their families are at or below the poverty line. They're caught in places they'd rather not be. (Many) come from a single-parent home. ... It doesn't seem to be recognized they have a tougher job to do.”

        Still, progress is being made:

        • In writing, 61 percent of CPS fourth-graders passed that section, compared with 38 percent the previous year.

        • Two-thirds of CPS second- and third- graders who attended last summer's mandated summer reading program passed the “off-grade” proficiency tests this year. That program will be expanded to six weeks this summer, said Jan Leslie, CPS spokeswoman.

        • This year, Hamilton ninth-graders met state averages in reading, writing and citizenship on the proficiency tests. On the 2001 state report card Hamilton improved in 21 areas and increased the number of standards passed by 50 percent, from eight on the 2000 report card to 12 on the 2001.

        • Middletown improved on 19 of the 27 criteria from last year to this year.

        Both Hamilton and Middletown moved from academic emergency to academic watch in one year, while CPS stayed in academic emergency.

        “The bottom line is, are you moving in the right direction?” Ms. Rogers said. “Are we seeing improvement? Some districts might not be very close to meeting the standards, but maybe they've moved 20 to 60 percent on a standard unit of measurement. That's progress.”

        The Urban 21 educators say they're not shying away from competition, they just need more time to bring up scores.

        “We all hunkered down real hard, determined to improve,” Mr. Driscoll said. “We still have a long way to go. We will be the first urban district to achieve 26 or 27 standards. We are on the move.”

       



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