On Thursday, September 15th the Ohio Department of Education officially released school district local report cards. The Athens City School District is one of many across the state with very low ratings in multiple areas. Neighboring districts and similar districts across the state received similar ratings. While it is important that we take the time to closely review the student scores and determine how best to use the information to drive school improvement, it is also important to view the overall grades within the context of (a) a system of state testing that has changed whereby many of our students have now taken three different tests over three years’ time, (b) the newest iteration of tests are based on a significant increase in academic expectations for our students, and (c) this was the first year when most students in Ohio, and nearly every student in the Athens City School District, tested using a computing device (Chromebooks in our case).
What can we learn from the data?
The District has a group called the District Leadership Team or DLT that consists of teachers and principals from every building, the Superintendent, Director of Curriculum, Director of Talented and Gifted, and the Director of Special Education. This group has already spent many hours reviewing the data and mining information that can be helpful in setting a plan for District improvement. We've already determined the following:
- In the area of Mathematics, we need to continue to ramp up efforts to implement the instruction of Mathematics using a “Cognitively Guided Instruction” (CGI)approach in grades K-6 - essentially encouraging our students to be able to critically think about multiple means of solving problems and how to both speak and write about the process they use and how they came to an answer. This is a process very reflective of Mathematical practices of Ohio’s Mathematics Learning Standards.
- In English/Language Arts we’ve seen great improvement in the comprehension of informational text and fiction. We still need to improve in critical writing across all disciplines. We’ve recently started to implement a program called “Writer’s Workshop” in grades K-6 which will allow our students greater opportunity to build their writing skills while also developing a greater ability for critical thinking.
- In classrooms where teachers were early adopters of CGI Mathematics techniques and Writer's Workshop, student performance was the highest. This is a good indication that these approaches, when implemented uniformly across all classrooms, should demonstrate growth with all of our students.
- In our elementary building with the greatest number of families in poverty, and where great emphasis has been placed on early intervention, teachers have realized positive value-added scores for four consecutive years.
Essentially, we know that we have areas where we need to improve as a District, we have a plan in place, and we are working diligently to implement that plan with fidelity.
What else should we know?
Many of our high school students take tests other than our state assessments, and generally perform exceptionally well. For example, Athens High School had four national merit scholar finalists this past year. Each year we have a larger percentage of our students taking the ACT College Entrance Exam(s), with the recent year’s average composite score being a 24.5 compared to the state average of 22. AHS students continue to score above the state average in all areas of the ACT. In addition to the many students at AHS who are successful in completing college level courses at Ohio University and Hocking College through College Credit Plus, we administered 104 Advanced Placement tests in 12 subjects last year. 88% of the students earned passing scores with significant number of students earning a score of 4 or 5.
Ohio’s state system for testing is in transition. As a result of the factors described above, we do not believe the grades are representative of the high quality of education our children are receiving. The teacher faculty, staff, administration and members of the Athens City School District Board of Education are committed to the District’s Mission to “collaborate with students, parents and the community to provide an enriched and rigorous learning environment where every student uses multiple pathways to grow, problem-solve, and reach their potential as a lifelong learner and productive citizen.”
Thomas J. Gibbs, Ed.D.
“Every learner. Every day."