Eighty-five percent of public school districts in Ohio now rank effective, excellent or the beyond-stellar "excellent with distinction," state education officials announced Monday.
It's a record percentage for the state, which introduced changes since last year to its grading system to give districts two additional ways to get credit for the progress of students who are improving but not yet proficient.
Of 610 districts statewide, the number ranked effective or above rose from 486 in 2006-2007 to 518 in 2007-2008, with 72 moving into the new high-ranking category. It was the third consecutive year when the Ohio Department of Education had no district in academic emergency, the State Report Card's version of an F.
"You will see a clear picture of student progress," said State Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman. "These data reflect the hard work of our students, parents, teachers and administrators."
Overall, the state's achievement rating was virtually unchanged, up from 92.1 to 92.3 for the year and still below a high of 92.9 in 2005-2006. And there were pockets of concern, including a 28 percent increase in the number of individual schools statewide that are in academic emergency, from 182 to 234.
Paolo DeMaria, assistant state superintendent for school finance, said teachers, principals and parents can use the report cards to identify areas within the curriculum where individual students, schools or districts need to devote more attention.
The changes to the ranking system helped address a key concern among districts, which had complained for years that schools that were working hard to bring underperforming students from bad to better were not being recognized for that effort.
The state tackled the problem in two ways.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that scores show steady annual improvement among students in each demographic group, whether broken down by race, income level, English proficiency or disability.
Ohio was one of eight states that secured permission from the federal government to give districts an alternate way to meet that progress standard, giving them credit for upward trends in students' test performance that indicate proficiency is in their future.
The new calculation had its biggest impact in major urban districts, 59.5 percent of which were ranked proficient under the model versus the 12.1 percent that would have been proficient under the old system.
Zelman warned, however, that if the students credited to the districts as proficient this year don't pass their proficiency tests next year, the benefit granted to the district will disappear.
The state also added a "value-added" measure that gives districts credit, beyond proficiency test scores, for a student's progress over time.
The measure was of particular benefit to high-performing districts that had been meeting all the state standards year after year and, therefore, had no place to display improvement within the state ranking system. Sixty-eight percent of districts either met or exceeded the value-added standards they were assigned by the state, while 32 percent did not.
It was within this category that the state created the new "excellent with distinction" category.
Of 3,491 schools statewide, 158 received the excellent with distinction ranking and another 2,280 were either excellent or effective.
Within individual subject areas, math and science remained the state's most difficult to master.
Students missed the proficiency mark for math in 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th grades, though 88.2 percent achieved proficiency by the time they took their graduation test in 11th grade. They missed the state's 75-percent mark in science in 5th, 8th, and 9th grades and came just shy of the higher state standard of 85 percent proficient in 10th grade with 83.6 percent.