Wednesday, June 27, 2001

New data lift spirits of school officials

CPS could exit 'emergency' rank

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Public Schools may be the first of Ohio's biggest urban districts to climb out of an “academic emergency” rating, a preliminary analysis of 2000-2001 proficiency test results shows.

        District leaders said Tuesday that their analysis shows CPS improved significantly in the 12th-grade test results in the areas of citizenship, reading and science. The higher scores mean the district could be elevated from academic emergency ranking — the lowest of Ohio's four academic categories — to “academic watch.”

        The state rankings are based on 27 criteria tied to districts' student graduation and attendance rates, and students' scores on proficiency tests.

        “Clearly what we're looking at now is promising,” said CPS Superintendent Steven Adamowski of the preliminary test data.

        Tuesday's news comes as the district is in the process of reinventing itself. Dr. Adamowski is overseeing increased school partnerships with businesses, a restructuring of the district's five neighborhood high schools and a teacher-evaluation system designed to make instructors more accountable for students' performances.

        CPS met the minimum passage rate in five of 27 ranked criteria during the 1999-2000 school year, according to results released this year.

        But district officials are confident the 2000-2001 test scores for the fourth-, sixth-, ninth- and 12th-grade tests will reveal improvements when the state releases final results in February.

        State education officials said they will wait until that time before discussing CPS' performance.

        The district's statisticians evaluated data from the past school year and found dramatic improvement in a number of proficiency testing categories.

        “In a worst-case scenario, we've met eight,” Dr. Adamowski said. “In the best case, we've met 10. ... This would be a milestone for us.”

        The results could change pending the state's analysis, but meeting nine or more standards would pull the 42,680-student district into the academic watch category.

        That may not sound like much, but Cincinnati Public Schools officials are not the only ones paying attention to the scores.

        “The quality of schools makes a significant difference and bears upon home sales and home-buying,” said Vince Evers, a North College Hill real estate agent and director for the National Association of Realtors. “In most cases, for people with school-age children or people who will soon have school-age children, that is probably the No. 1 concern.”

        Paula Kollstedt, a spokeswoman for GE Aircraft Engines in Evendale, agrees.

        “(We) rely on good schools for work-force development and as a tool for recruitment,” she said. “Businesses need highly skilled workers to meet customer requirements. Employees want to provide their children with the best education.”

        CPS has been in academic emergency for two years, ever since the state began counting district report cards based on the 27 standards. If the district remained mired in the academic emergency status for five years, management of the district could have been handed over to a panel recommended by the CPS school board.

Why people leave the city

        Some of the accountability measures for schools may change under new school standards recently signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft, but the state rankings will continue, Ohio Department of Education officials say.

        While oversight was mandated for consistently failing districts it's unclear whether that will continue under the new laws.

        A 2000 survey by the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission on why residents are moving from the county showed respondents cited school performance as the chief reason for Hamilton County's population decline from 1984-1997.

        Cincinnati Public has lost more than 7,000 students, falling from 50,077 students in the 1991-92 school year to 42,680 in the school year just ended.

        School successes and failures also have an impact on the work force.

        “When you have increased test scores, you are ensuring greater preparedness for a competitive work force,” said Laura Long, executive director of the Cincinnati Business Committee. Its membership includes chief executives from some of the region's largest and most influential companies.

        Because it wants more companies to locate in Cincinnati and a more educated work force, the CBC has traditionally paid close attention to the school district's performance.

Parents applaud higher scores

        For parents, improved test scores — no matter what state category the district winds up in — means educators are doing their job and students are learning.

        “This shows that the public schools aren't what people say — that "public schools are lacking in good education,'” said Johnny Taylor, a Walnut Hills parent who has two children at Burton Elementary School and 15 nieces and nephews in other CPS schools.

        “With test scores rising, that brings a lot to the community. ... It's our kids' future. It's our community's future.”

        Ohio's seven other large big-city districts are Canton, Akron, Toledo, Columbus, Youngstown, Cleveland and Dayton.


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