ASHTABULA — Ashtabula Area City Schools received an overall D grade — compared to an F last year —  on the state report cards, released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Education.

This is the second year districts and schools were assigned overall letter grades. The overall grade is based on six components: achievement, progress, gap closing, improving at-risk K-3 readers, graduation rate and prepared for success. Districts and individual buildings throughout the state received an overall A-F grade and one for each of the six components and many other individual measures.

Ashtabula wasn't the only district in the county to receive an overall D grade, Buckeye, Conneaut, Geneva and Pymatuning Valley all received D’s, while Grand Valley and Jefferson received an overall C.

Ashtabula received either a D or F mark in five out of the six overall grades on the report card, but shined with a B in gap closing. The gap closing component shows how well schools are meeting the performance expectations for our most vulnerable students in English language arts, math, graduation and English language proficiency, according to the ODE.

"We received a D overall which means we are no longer in the state receivership protocol and we are no longer vulnerable to state takeover by the distress commission," Ashtabula Superintendent Mark Potts said. "We want to thank everyone for all of their work and contributions to make this happen, this includes students, families, community members/organizations and employees."

Potts said the most amazing gain was that Ashtabula went from a 34.9 percent F in gap closing as a district to 98.1 percent A on our gap closing raw score.

"The report card gave us a B (in gap closing) because we get a 10-point penalty for not making graduation rate for students with disabilities in 2018," he said. "In any case, an F to a B is unheard of in gap closing and it took a tremendous effort on everyone's part to make that happen. It's a collaborative achievement that I'm particularly proud of."

Mariel Sallee, director of school improvement for the district, said she's pleased that positive results are stemming from early work with teachers in the district.

"Our students are capable of achieving at high levels so we are excited to continue our growth and showcase our student's abilities," Sallee said. "This process started with honest communication and responding to concerns of inconsistent implementation throughout the district, but now we are building positive relationships and are purposeful in our goal-setting so that everyone understands the direction."

Sallee said the district's families have been supportive, as well as community organizations.

"This process is a team effort and we all own both the success and challenges," she said. "By no means are we satisfied, we have to continue to improve and work together to do so."

Every other county district, except Conneaut, had at least one B in the individual measurements. Jefferson was the only school district getting an A for its graduation rate.

Jefferson Area Schools Superintendent John Montanaro said he attributes the A grade for attendance to the students, teachers and Jeremy Huber, principal of Jefferson Area High School.

"Mr. Huber does a great job of understanding what we need to do to make sure kids graduate and don't fall through the cracks," Montanaro said. "And our teachers — our teachers go the extra mile to give the kids the help they need to make sure they are successful whether it's on the state exams or in the classroom on a day-to-day basis."

Ashtabula School Board member Christine Seuffert said the district's F in graduation rate is misleading.

"The state posts graduation rates a year in the arrears, so the graduation rate on the report card today is actually the 2018 rate," she said. "Lakeside High made the graduation rate for 2019 but that won't show up until next year's card."

As far as Ashtabula's individual buildings, four buildings received F’s, — Huron Primary, Lakeside High School, Michigan Primary and Ontario Primary. Superior Intermediate and Lakeside Junior High received Cs, while Erie Intermediate was given a D. Last year, Lakeside Junior High was given a D, so school officials were happy to see it go up to a C this year.

Potts said this is just the first step for the Ashtabula Area City School District.

"We will celebrate the improvement, but we will not settle for D’s," he said. "We will continue to improve and work to become the destination district in the area. We will continue to work with the goal of moving this up to a C by the next report card and will, frankly, not be satisfied with that either. The success of this district is very personal to me."

What report cards measure

According to the Ohio Department of Education, “Report cards are designed to give parents, communities, educators and policymakers information about the performance of districts and schools — to celebrate success and identify areas for improvement.”

Critics say the report cards are biased against poorer districts, like those in Ashtabula County.

“Today’s state report card data shows that a disturbing pattern continues,” said Dr. Howard Fleeter, of the Ohio Education Policy Institute. “Economically disadvantaged students continue to perform far worse than non-economically disadvantaged students on all measures. These results track with the recent study of the state’s school-funding efforts since the landmark Ohio Supreme Court DeRolph decision, which found disparities for low-wealth districts continue to exist two decades later.”

ODE stressed that the “report cards are only one part of the story.”

 Local schools

Jefferson Area Schools, which earned an overall C grade as a district, maintained the same grades as the last report card with the exception of the progress category in which it dropped from an A to a B, according to its 2019 report card.

The progress category "looks closely at the growth that all students are making based on their past performances," according to the Ohio Department of Education website. The only D the district received was in the achievement category, which looks at whether student performance on state tests met established thresholds and how well students performed on tests overall. An F score was received in the prepared for success category.

Montanaro said he thinks his district does a great job of teaching students, but there are always areas for any district to improve.

"It's a live document and we're always working to improve it," Montanaro said. "In some areas we are happy, and in other areas there is a lot of work to do. We will just keep trying to figure out what our students need to be successful and if we can figure that out then our grades will rise."

Grand Valley Local Schools also saw its grades remain largely the same as in 2018 with the exception of the improving at-risk K-3 readers category where the letter grade dropped from a B to a C. The district received D grades in the achievement and progress categories and an F grade in the prepared for success category.

Superintendent William Nye said the prepared for success category is new and despite the grade the district has many program and dual-credit offerings aimed at getting students prepared for college and the workforce.

The important thing to remember with state report cards is that they serve as blueprints for learning how to improve the quality of education for students. The data serves as a baseline to analyze and determine where more focus needs to be among staff and the student body, Nye said.

"You have to have 80 percent of your class pass an indicator and when you have 80 to 100 kids in a class, one kid makes a difference on whether you make or break an indicator," Nye said. "It's tough to do good on report cards these days, but I think all schools in this county are quality schools."

Pymatuning Valley Local Schools saw its overall grade drop from a C in 2018 to a D in 2019. In the gap closing category the district dropped from a B to a C and in the improving at-risk K-3 readers category the grade dropped from a C to a D.

Superintendent Christopher Edison, who took the helm at PV in August when former superintendent Michael Candela left to take on the role of head of the county's Educational Service Center, said he is looking forward to analyzing all the data and meeting with staff to determine where weaknesses may be.

"The teachers and administrators have identified an area of weakness specific to reading," Edison said. "We're going to spend a year to try to come up with ways to effectively improve reading as a district."

Similarly, Edison said teachers are going to work to try to make improvements in math, Edison said.

Conneaut Area City Schools received a D overall. The district's highest grades, both Cs, were in graduation rates and improving at risk K-3 readers, while the district received Fs in gap closing and preparing students for success.

Lakeshore Primary School received the best grade for schools in the district, an A, with an A in achievement and a B in improving at risk K-3 readers.

Geneva Area City Schools also received a D overall. The district's highest grade was a B in graduation rate.

At a school level, Austinburg Elementary received a B. Cork Elementary, Geneva High, and Platt R. Spencer Elementary were given Cs, and Geneva Middle School received a D.

The lowest grade at the school level were a pair of Fs, one at the high school and one at the middle school. At the high school level, Geneva received an F for preparing students for success, and at the middle school level, one for gap closing.

"As a district, we certainly did not meet our expected levels. I know how hard the teachers, staff and students work so when you don't see the results, it is disappointing. We will continue to look at the data that we receive and investigate how we can improve in all of the areas," Geneva Superintendent Eric Kujala said.

The Geneva school board recently approved a strategic plan, Kujala said.

"We will continue to make changes to benefit the overall academic experience of our students in Geneva," Kujala said.

Buckeye Local Schools was given a D overall by the state. The district got Fs for progress and for preparing for success.

At a school level, Edgewood High School, Ridgeview Elementary and Kingsville Elementary all received C overall grades, while Braden Middle School received a D.

A high note for the schools was an A grade in gap closing for Ridgeview, and a B for the high school.

"Buckeye is dedicated to developing the "whole " child through a skills based curriculum so that all of our students have the confidence to compete and find success in the contemporary global market. Our curriculum focuses on developing the skills that today's employers covet, such as: collaboration, leadership, creativity, team work, critical thinking, problem solving and research skills. ... Standardized tests alone cannot measure these essential skills," Buckeye Superintendent Patrick Colucci said in a statement.

Colucci praised the improvements at Ridgeview Elementary, and said that the district has a number of things that are not measured by standardized testing.

"Let me explain what we have a Buckeye that is not measured by a standardized test. We have a safe, caring, supportive environment, which includes the addition of a guidance counselor and  linkage coordinator. We also contract with community counseling to support all of our students' needs," Colucci said.

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