For the first time, the Big Walnut Local School District has earned an "excellent with distinction" rating on the state report card.

For the first time, the Big Walnut Local School District has earned an "excellent with distinction" rating on the state report card.

The district recently was notified by the Ohio Department of Education of the rating -- equivalent to an A-plus -- it received for the 2011-12 school year.

The previous six years, Big Walnut had an "excellent" rating from the state.

"I am so proud of our students and staff for working so hard to earn this honor, and I thank the community for supporting our students and staff," school board President Pamula Lillie said in a statement last week.

Big Walnut is one of 138 districts statewide to receive the honor. The other three school districts in Delaware County also achieved the top ranking. There are 610 districts in Ohio.

Report cards usually are released in August, but were delayed this year because of an ongoing investigation by the state auditor's office into possible tampering of enrollment statistics by some districts -- none in Delaware County.

The state report card evaluates several areas, including 26 state indicators and a Performance Index score, or overall rating for the district. Each school in a district also receives a Performance Index score.

Big Walnut pulled in a 105.8 performance index score out of a possible 120. Last year, it scored 104.6.

The district met all indicators on state tests in such areas as reading, math and science The 3,000-student district also met standards for attendance rate (95.4 percent); graduation rate (92.9 percent); adequate yearly progress, showing students achieved at a higher level then required; and value added, which shows academic achievement among various subgroups, such as students who have disabilities.

"This rating is a reflection of the collective effort and hard work of our students, staff and supportive community," Superintendent Steve Mazzi said in a statement. "We know much more goes into making Big Walnut the district that it is, and this is just a snapshot of the overall health of the district."

Because of expected changes in how the state evaluates its districts and schools, it is difficult to predict what type of judgment to expect next year -- except perhaps a more-challenging one, said Angie Pollock, Big Walnut's director of academic achievement.

"We'll focus on what we need to do on kids' learning (during the current school year)," Pollock said. "The report card (for next year) will take care of itself."

Pollock praised the collaborative work in the district to improve, particularly efforts by teachers.

"Obviously, all our teachers have been working very hard ... getting kids to the level they need to be," she said. "We really pushed all the kids to that next level" to reach their maximum academic potential."

A key role by teachers was taking part in professional learning groups to discuss assessment data and determine adjustments that needed to be made in such areas as classroom instruction, Pollock added.