PCS ‘making great strides’ despite low grades

By Belinda M. Paschal - bpaschal@aimmediamidwest.com

PIQUA — The recent release of Ohio school report cardsfound Piqua City Schools receiving a high grade in one of the report’s six components, while getting lower grades in other areas, which Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said does not reflect the district’s academic growth in the past year.

On the report card, which focuses on student performance on state tests to assign letter grades to districts, PCS received an A in the area of Progress, which examines the growth that all students are making based on their past performances.

“(This means) we are making great strides with improving student performance on state assessments,” Thompson said. “This is based on the notion that not all children start out at the same place with their learning, but every student should learn and grow throughout the school year. This, by far, is a more fair expectation for student growth than assuming every student will be proficient no matter the child’s background, experiences, disabilities, etc.”

Average grades were handed out by the state in K-3 Literacy (how successful the school is at getting struggling readers on track to proficiency in third grade and beyond) and Graduation Rate (the percent of students who are successfully finishing high school with a diploma in four or five years), with both receiving C’s.

To further K-3 Literacy, Thompson emphasized the need for students to be proactive with their reading in and out of school at all grade levels — “especially over the summer months when the summer reading slide happens and students can digress with their reading skills due to a lack of engaged reading.”

He added that for the 2016-17 academic year, PCS will be building grade level profiles for students that define what grades K-3 readers look like. “It will clearly give students, parents, and us a clear description of how students at this level should respond to text,” he said.”We use a lot of small group instruction at this level as well that gives teachers more ability to engage the with each student as they are practicing their reading skills.

“As I look at how our results compare to our similar district results, I feel as though we are improving at similar rates with students that have the same types of demographics. This is important, foundational work, and we will continue to work on this component.”

As for Graduation Rate, Thompson said, “Tracking all the paths to graduation is the most difficult part of this indicator. There are a number of pathways students can take, but it must be tracked carefully so something is not missed. Key to this indicator is passing the end of course exams. The higher the student scores on each exam, the more points s/he earns toward graduation. Our high school has implemented double blocks in some course in order to provide more instructional time as well as student practice time.

“An advisory period has been implemented that allows students to reach out to teachers and ask questions and seek additional support. Teachers can also support students at this time with attendance issues or other concerns that may be hindering a student’s academic success. Also in place are options for students to catch up on their credits. If a student does not take their work too seriously early on in high school, it will catch up to him/her the closer graduation gets. On-line courses/independent studies can assist students with earning needed credits.”

Here is the rundown of grades in other areas:

Achievement: Represents the number of students who passed the state tests and how well they performed on them — D

“We always keep in mind that state tests are only one measure of a student’s success,” Thompson said. “The best analogy I can think of here is if a teacher based his/her success for a whole year of teaching on just one test given to his/her students in the classroom, it simply would not make sense nor would it be an adequate indication of the work that took place over the course of 180 days of instruction and progress monitoring.”

Thompson added, “We have significant amounts of ongoing, daily, relevant data collected from multiple student measures that we use to monitor student progress. A test simply can not define a student’s, teacher’s, or district’s achievement or success.”

Gap Closing: Shows how well schools are meeting performance expectations for its most vulnerable populations of students in English Language Arts, math and graduation — F

“I believe this is one of the more difficult indicators to meet because it requires educators to know the 10 different subgroups — All students, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Non-Hispanic, Hispanic, Multiracial, White, Non-Hispanic, Economically Disadvantages, Students with Disabilities, and Limited English Proficiency — that their students may qualify for,” Thompson explained.

“Some of the information is not even permissible to give to teachers, such as Economically Disadvantaged, so they are working with some blind spots. Additionally, by state requirement, a district or school cannot receive an A if one of its subgroups is not reaching the annual goal for all students. This requires a great deal of tracking by teachers and can ultimately be difficult to achieve.”

Prepared for success: Whether training in a technical field or preparing for work or college, this component looks at how well prepared students are for all future opportunities — D

PCS will not receive a comprehensive letter grade until 2018. The complete report card can be found at http://bit.ly/2xC2M58.

Despite the low grades, Thompson said overall, the district is “pleased with the growth we made this year.”

Thompson noted that last year was the first year the district used the Ohio AIR Assessments instead of PARCC testing, which was used the year before, and the Ohio Achievement Assessments, which were used the year before PARCC.

“After three years of changes with assessments and adjustments to the state standards and state report card performance expectations, this is the second year of a consistent testing format by the state,” he said.

“We considered our last year’s results base line data for us to use to grow with. Because there were so many changes in a three year period, we truly did not have a basis to predict how we would score last year. The state only released final numerical results last year as well, so we did not have much to use to guide us with the kinds of questions or standards our students were faltering with.

“Some of that information has been released to us this year, so we have disseminated that to principals and teachers to use as they plan their instruction so they can highlight content where we showed weaknesses.

“When we received our data last year, we dissected it and set goals that we felt were attainable. We knew we had areas to grow in but also knew we had to be realistic with our goal planning.”

Thompson said the report cards contain an abundance of information to process, “so we need to break it down and plan accordingly so that it’s meaningful rather than overwhelming. Like other districts, we continue to try to understand the changes and new components implemented by the state on the report card.”

“The curriculum department continues to work with the data and provide professional development in areas of need as identified by the data,” he said.

Thompson also said it is beneficial to the district to compare its results with similar districts that have the same student and city demographics.

“This is the best gauge for us to examine if our rate of growth is appropriate or not. We continue to match up well with our state identified 20 most similar districts, which means we are not an outlying district falling behind,” he said. ”In addition, PCS principals have reached out to similar districts to see how they are improving in certain categories to learn new strategies that may be helpful to Piqua’s students.”

“Principals will continue to work with their teachers to understand this data and implement plans that will impact student growth that ultimately realize improvements on the state report card,” Thompson said.

By Belinda M. Paschal


Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341

Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341