As expected, Hilliard schools earned a fifth consecutive state report card grade of "Excellent with Distinction" when the Ohio Department of Education released its official results last week.
But district officials also learned students' academic gains -- measured by the state's "value-added" rating -- were the best in Ohio for the 2011-12 school year, according to the Department of Education.
The value-added rating calculates how much progress students in grades four through eight make in math and reading during a school year.
In previous years, districts were informed if they exceeded, met or failed to reach a standard amount of academic growth in a single year, but the state began ranking them this year based on the measurement. Hilliard was first among the 832 Ohio public, private, charter, community and STEM districts that teach fourth through eighth grades.
Steve Estepp, executive director of K-12 curriculum and instruction, said the accomplishment is an endorsement of the daily practices of Hilliard teachers, administrators and students.
"When you see an accomplishment like this, it speaks volumes to the work we do every day in our classrooms," Estepp said. "We maximize and personalize the educational experience of our students at every opportunity.
"We use a 'common lens' for guiding quality instruction and best-practice strategies every day."
The district employs its own evaluations and intervenes as necessary to help each students maximize potential, Estepp said.
"What makes our value-added achievement most satisfying is that it is an indication of our success for students of all academic levels," he said.
The Department of Education also began ranking districts this year based on their performance index scores, which are weighted averages that include all tested subjects in grades three to eight and grade 10, with the greatest weight given to advanced scores.
Hilliard was ranked 111th out of 942 districts for its performance index of 104.4, which was its highest to date.
Visit reportcard.ohio.gov to view the performance index and value-added rankings.
Hilliard also met all 26 state indicators to gain the "Excellent with Distinction" grade.
The Department of Education added "with distinction" to its ratings five years ago, and only 15 school districts in Ohio have received the highest rating for five consecutive years, according to district spokeswoman Amanda Morris.
Three of those districts also are in Franklin County: Bexley, Dublin and Upper Arlington.
Among the Franklin County districts, Hilliard has the lowest cost per pupil at $11,398, Morris said, citing Department of Education figures for the 2010-11 school year. Upper Arlington's cost per pupil was $15,172, Bexley's was $14,337 and Dublin's was $13,013, she said.
The official state report card results were delayed more than six months while the Department of Education worked with State Auditor Dave Yost to investigate allegations of tampering with student-attendance data against several districts, including Columbus City Schools. Preliminary results were released in September and were certified Feb. 27 for all districts except the nine where the state auditor found evidence that employees manipulated data.