Last updated: August 25. 2013 2:54AM - 67 Views

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LIMA — With big trucks and construction equipment right outside their windows last year, state testing could have been problematic for Columbus Grove schools' pupils. Results released Wednesday tell a different story. The district is one of eight in the nine-county region to earn excellent with distinction honors, the highest designation possible. It met all 26 indicators and jumped to the top spot from effective. “Kids were very interested in what was going on outside the windows,” Superintendent Bob Jennell said of the district's ongoing building project. “I think at the same time, it gave the teachers more energy or whatever it was to continue to keep the kids on track and they did a wonderful job with it.”The Ohio Department of Education released the yearly state and local report cards Wednesday. They take into account test scores, attendance, graduation rates, how school districts and buildings are progressing, and how subgroups, such as economically disadvantaged pupils, are doing.Other excellent with distinction schools include Bluffton, Shawnee, Minster and Van Wert. Bluffton and Shawnee both moved up to the spot after dropping last year. This marks the third year of Minster's high success. School officials plan to celebrate with the community at Friday's home football game.“We are obviously very pleased with the results and we attribute them to the hard work of our students, parents, teachers and administrators,” said Superintendent Brenda Boeke. Keeping the top score isn't easy, Boeke said, but the school continues to work hard and have high expectations.“It is not easy to meet the needs of all of our students but it is our job, so we will continue to find ways to meet those needs,” she said.Fifteen area districts moved up to higher designations and 18 dropped. Thirty remained the same. Lima schools remained in continuous improvement, where it has been for the past two years. The district met five performance indicators, two more than last year. Heritage Elementary School is again rated an excellent school and for the fourth year has met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in all subgroups. AYP measures success of pupil subgroups such as racial minorities and economically disadvantaged.The district did not meet value added criteria, the measure that reflects how much progress was made since the prior year. Not meeting the measure means a district or school has achieved less than one year of expected growth over the past year. Lima schools met the measure last year, but it is being calculated differently by the state this year.“There are a lot of pieces to be watching in order to make the value added,” Superintendent Karel Oxley said. “It seems as if when you set your sights on a goal, that goal keeps changing. It becomes difficult, but our staff is dedicated and they keep on going after the goal.”State Superintendent Stan Heffner said in a conference call Wednesday that the change allows the state greater confidence that it is accurately identifying whether a district meets the expected growth. Oxley said grade card data, along with needed reductions, were driving forces behind the district restructuring. The restructuring included putting fifth and sixth grades in one building and seventh and eighth grades in another. That will help with the ongoing mobility issue, where pupils end up in multiple schools in a year.“Students will be coming to the same building, and we will have the opportunity to really focus on the indicators,” Oxley said. Middle schools continue to be a problem statewide. Lima's three middle schools remain in academic watch. Heffner said one of his biggest concerns from the statewide report card was the progress of fifth-graders. Pupils in fifth grade missed the state's proficiency mark for math, reading and science.Districts dropping designations include Bath, Elida, Perry, Spencerville, St. Marys, Kenton, Leipsic, Ottawa-Glandorf and Pandora. Spencerville, Ottawa-Glandorf and Pandora are all still rated excellent districts. Elida schools dropped from excellent to effective, yet gained two indicators. The district also saw success in the middle school, which met AYP and picked up two indicators. The change in value added kept the district from remaining excellent.“We really improved, but with value added having been what it was and the rigor it is now, it did not allow us to move up,” said Faith Cummings, No Child Left Behind director. It's frustrating, Cummings said, that while the district is improving, its designation says differently. Yet, the district will study the data and figure out what it needs to do differently.“The Elida staff is resilient,” she said. “They are going to take a look at what it takes and they are going to move forward.” Most area community schools struggled. Quest Academy dropped from academic watch to academic emergency, the lowest designation. It is the only area school with the designation. The Findlay Digital Academy is the only school in academic watch. The West Central Learning Academy fell from effective to continuous improvement. Heir Force Community School on the other hand has something to celebrate. It moved from continuous improvement to effective. Another year of meeting value added was vital to the move, school Director Darwin Lofton said.“Obviously we are extremely excited,” he said. “We are really excited by the fact that our teachers have really implemented very aggressively new strategies that we have been putting into place.”Heir Force staff implemented a differentiation strategy, recognizing that all pupils learn differently and that the school has to appeal to each pupil in the way they best learn. Pupils also received more and earlier exposure to state testing materials, Lofton said.Statewide, the percentage of students scoring proficient increased on 21 of 26 indicators, with the strongest gains in third-grade math, eighth-grade math and 10th-grade writing. Overall, students met the state goal of 17 out of 26 indicators, one less than last year. Students will face higher expectations in the coming years, including when online assessments are implemented for the 2014 and 2015 school year. Gov. John Kasich's new budget also calls for a new system to rank schools and districts for accountability.“We want to build on the strong academic progress we are making as we move to a move rigorous set of standards that will better prepare Ohio graduates to be college or career ready,” Heffner said. The report cards include two graduation rate measures. The new method more closely tracks when students transfer to or from a school and will replace the current method that estimates graduation rates. The new method, required by federal law, will not count on report cards until next year. The state-wide graduation rate based on the new formula is 78 percent, compared with 84.3 percent using the existing method. Many districts around the state showed worse graduate rates under the new formula.

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