ELYRIA — Superintendent Paul Rigda admits he has a lot of explaining to do to parents and community members.
By now, many have seen the latest report card from the Ohio Department of Education and wonder what can be said to justify the district’s report card bearing an A, four Cs, two Ds and two Fs. There aren’t too many parents in the district of more than 6,000 students who can say they would accept such a report from their own children.
Rigda, who has never sidestepped the harshest criticism, said he plans to do whatever he can to educate the public about the new report cards and what Elyria plans to do to improve its marks in the coming years.
But first, on Friday — the last work day before classes start for the 2013-14 school year — Rigda took the report to more than 700 staff members.
In the midst of grumbles of frustration and side conversations centering on how politicians who have never been in a classroom shouldn’t be the ones to decide what makes a school or teacher good, Rigda brought the focus back to the most important part of teaching.
Sandwiched in between Elyria’s steel drum band — the only such one in the county — and the video “Candid Chat with Cool Kids,” the Elyria Schools version of “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” Rigda told the teachers to never waiver in the focus on the students.
Beyond budgets, report cards, curriculum changes and state mandates, “They are why we are all here.”
“They’re still here and expect the best possible education we can provide,” he said.
The report cards are in stark contrast to last year.
This year, Elyria Schools combined earned nine As, eight Bs, 23 Cs, nine Ds and 25 Fs. Last year, the district was on a high after receiving stellar report cards — the best it had had in years with several schools earning the designation “excellent” or “excellent with distinction.”
The top ratings last year went to Prospect, Crestwood, Ely, McKinley and Windsor elementary schools, but this year a new system that differently grades schools and districts dramatically changed those report cards.
Prospect was the only elementary school to pass enough indictors — there is one indicator for each of the seven state test students take — to earn a B in a particular category. They were joined by Elyria High, which has 10 indictors, and also earned a B. Every other school earned an F.
Schools earned between a B and D for performance index, which looks at the achievement of every student and not just whether or not they reached proficient on the test.
This year, districts had to have at least 75 percent of students score proficient or above on a test, but in 2014 the state will require 80 percent proficiency.
“It’s not easy to understand, but we have to all come together and understand how the state is grading us and how people will judge us,” Rigda said. “We know this bar is going to keep moving, and the effect won’t just be felt in Elyria. This year, 60 percent of districts in the state can get 75 percent of their student to the proficient level, but when the state mandates 80 percent, you will see that just 40 percent of districts can operate at that level.”
The next weak area for Elyria is seen in annual measurable objective, the goal the state set out for closing academic gaps between subgroups. Districts are supposed to bring everyone up to the same level even if that means having weaker students make twice the gains of students performing at or above grade level.
Avon Superintendent Michael Laub said that will remain the hardest area for his district to improve in because it basically requires top performing students to stay stagnant while others catch up. It’s not realistic.
State Superintendent Richard Ross strongly defends all of the changes that have taken place in the state’s education system. The decision to dump the old grading system was motivated by the desire to produce more transparency. The designations of the past simply were too vague and concealed places where districts were doing a poor job, he said.
Also, state leaders have long said districts were doing too good of a job reaching low standards and hiding behind misleading labels.
“It was time for a clearer way of rating school performance that will help schools and families see what we still have to do to give our students the education they deserve,” Ross said. “The goal of Ohio’s public education system is that every child in every Ohio community gets the education needed to be a successful adult — no exceptions.”
Rigda said teachers are not asking for exceptions or special treatment. However, comparing Elyria to suburban districts that don’t have a melting pot of students is not fair. Saying that all students can learn at the same level doesn’t serve Elyria well given its diverse population.
“I know this feels like a curve ball has been thrown our way, especially to everyone who has spent years in academia, took countless hours of professional development courses and spent years in classrooms,” he said. “You know kids don’t learn the same. I know you’re working hard. The board knows you’re working hard and the community will learn how hard you are working with a little education of this new system.”
Opening day for teachers is usually an upbeat two-hour pep rally to energize staff for the coming year. Coming a day after such a scathing report, Rigda made the event a more somber affair.
But there were still moments of fun. The morning started with a short video highlighting what some teachers and staffers do on their summer vacations, such as lead Girl Scout troops, work at restaurants, shuck corn at family farms and hang out by the pool.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.