Fulton County’s seven school districts generally performed fair to poorly in the 2015-16 academic year, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s report cards released last week.
However, the local school superintendents are unimpressed with the results, with most saying the state’s penchant for changing testing and policy –including cut scores, which are necessary to attain proficiency– is skewing the results.
Pettisville Local Schools leads as the only school district in the four-county area with no grades below a C.
The districts’ scores in general report card categories are as follows:
Achievement – Archbold, C; Evergreen, C; Fayette, D; Pettisville C; Pike-Delta-York – C; Swanton, C; Wauseon, C.
Gap Closing – Archbold, D; Evergreen, F; Fayette, F; Pettisville C; Pike-Delta-York, F; Swanton, F; Wauseon, F.
K-3 Literacy – Archbold, not rated; Evergreen, C; Fayette, D; Pettisville, not rated; Pike-Delta-York, D; Swanton, not rated; Wauseon, D.
Progress – Archbold B; Evergreen, A; Fayette, C; Pettisville, A; Pike-Delta-York, C; Swanton, C; Wauseon, B.
Graduation Rate – Archbold, A; Evergreen, A; Fayette, A; Pettisville, A; Pike-Delta-York, B; Swanton, D; Wauseon, A.
Prepared for Success – Archbold, C; Evergreen, D; Fayette, D; Pettisville, C; Pike-Delta-York, D; Wauseon, C.
The categories may be viewed in detail on the district report card site at education.ohio.gov.
Superintendent Erik Belcher is frustrated with the grade card’s complicated form. He believes it’s far from an accurate representation of what the school district has accomplished, and views it with a jaundiced eye.
“This information is based on last year’s testing. And every state test in the last three years has been different. There is no consistency,” he said.
“If we’re going to have a grade card…keep it consistent. Don’t keep pulling the rug out from underneath the districts. Let us know what we’re supposed to do. I’m very frustrated, because we do love these kids. To me, (the grade cards are) not a reflection of Fulton County schools.”
As with Fayette schools, where student numbers are smaller than in other school districts, “one or two kids can make the difference in any category” as compared to 15 students in a larger district, he said.
And because Ohio attempts to manage education through legislation, “We don’t know what’s going to change now until we have to do it again,” Belcher said. “We never know what’s coming.”
He said power has shifted to the state, “and now we have state legislators controlling our schools, and they’re trying to use a broad paint brush. We are (like) a factory producing widgets.”
He added, “We’ve got 440 kids…we are emotionally attached to. And nowhere on the grade card is that taken as consideration.”
Belcher said the district’s areas of priority include raising gifted value standards, meeting more indicators, and adapting more thoroughly to the relatively new K-3 Literacy standards. He said he told the teaching staff it has to take ownership.
“I know the flaws that are involved with this report card. We’re going to choose what we can get better at,” he said. “Everyone can agree we can all get better.”
Superintendent Larry Brown said the district’s students “would have made modest score improvements had the assessments remained constant for 2016.” He said state legislators are obviously attempting to re-calibrate grading scales and motivate districts meeting or exceeding all of the report card’s indicators.
“Nearly every school district in the state of Ohio had drastic reductions in their report card scores as compared with the 2015 results as a result of the previously mentioned changes in the difficulty of the assessments and rigor of the new standards,” he said.
Despite the new mandates, tests, and standards, Wauseon third graders received qualifying scores for the ODE’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, Brown said.
“I am proud of the efforts of the students, parents, and staff members of the Wauseon school community…Wauseon Exempted Village Schools will continue to evaluate the results of these report cards as we strive for continuous improvement,” he said.
The teachers and students at Evergreen Local Schools are doing a remarkable job, regardless of what the state is reporting, Superintendent Jim Wyse said.
“It’s difficult, if next to impossible, to compare this year’s tests with previous years. It’s really unfair to school districts. It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “When legislators pass policy, it doesn’t always get enacted the way they envision. There’s always going to be unexpected consequences.”
Wyse believes the state should withhold releasing district report cards until it consistently provides the same test each year.
“It would be nice if we waited until we had a good baseline year. (When) we get…three or more years of data to compare, I think that’s going to be a lot more accurate,” he said.
He feels a sense of frustration because information on the district’s report card is inaccurate, and once the report has been released he’s not sure the mistakes can be corrected.
“We’re all looking to improve,” Wyse said. “Obviously, we want to look at our lower scores and see what we can do to improve them. I just want to make sure we have accurate information that we’re looking at.”
Wyse is especially concerned for the students, who face the state’s continued practice of raising scores and expectations without offering time to adjust.
“Students are going to feel like failures when they can’t pass a particular test, and that’s the last thing I want to see happen,” he said.
As for gaining back local control of education, Wyse said, “We do have a local board of education for a reason.”
Considering the state’s constant changes, Archbold Area Schools Superintendent Aaron Rex expected the report card the district received.
Is it frustrating? Yes. Do I personally put a lot of confidence in what this grade card is reporting? Because of the way it’s done, no,” he said.
“When you look at certain things on the grade card…either all schools are doing a really bad job or the measurement they’re using is not effective. As legislators, they need to look at this closer, and say, ‘What’s wrong?’”
Rex will join other superintendents at the Ohio School Board Association Conference in Columbus in November, where they’ll gather at the state Capitol to show “that something needs to change with how education is being mandated down to the local level. They’re taking away our ability to do what’s best for the kids.”
He said it’s disappointing to see low district scores when he knows how and hard-working the teachers and students are.
“All of us believe in standards and accountability, but (the state has) taken that too far,” Rex said. “We’re going to do the best we can, and not worry about the things we can’t control.”
In a statement released last week, Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) said after meeting with parents, students, and school administrators he understands the frustration surrounding the state report cards.
“There is too much emphasis on standardized tests and the tests are constantly changing,” the statement said. “I know today’s results are difficult for many to understand because the report cards are overly complicated. The letter grades don’t necessarily represent the learning that is going on every day in our classrooms.”
Schiavoni said the state is transitioning to new tests and higher standards, and added, “But clearly we have to do more at the state level to work with everyone to ensure our schools have the resources they need to succeed.”
Pike-Delta-York Superintendent Ted Haselman said the state has obviously raised expectations, and the school district will also continue to do so. “I like accountability, and speak to Pike-Delta-York staff members about accountability often,” he said.
What frustrates Haselman is that district grades are calculated in a way that omits assets that can’t be measured. He cited the district’s three Destination Imagination teams that qualified for the program’s Global event.
“We are very proud of all of our students’ many achievements and successes, but these will never show up on the state report card,” he said.
Haselman questions the report card’s accuracy, saying the district’s K-3 Literacy grade doesn’t directly reflect student achievement.
“If we are being graded on our students becoming on track, then the letter grade should not be impacted by an ‘indicator deduction.’ This deduction…unfortunately lowered our grade in this area significantly,” he said.
He would like if nothing about state testing and the report card changed for at least one year. “Keeping our eye on the moving target has been a challenge,” he said. “(But) the Pike-Delta-York Local School District will continue to work hard for our stakeholders to provide the best comprehensive education possible for our students and families.”
Pettisville’s school district got an A in Value Added after several years of lower grades in that subcategory. Superintendent Steve Switzer said that and other reasons made him basically pleased with the district’s performance.
He added, however, it’s important to remember the letter grades are based mostly on standardized testing.
“My colleagues and I are concerned about the amount of emphasis that is being placed on store-bought testing,” he said.
Switzer said a comment he made to his teaching staff is relevant: “While it is nice to be on the upside of these reports, please be assured of our continued confidence in you as a faculty and staff to continue to do what you do best–help students to learn the essentials that they will need for college, a vocation, and more importantly, life.”
Swanton Local Schools Superintendent Jeff Schlade did not respond to requests for comment.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.