Although the state's official release of district report cards Feb. 28 carried no surprises for Whitehall, officials there still were ecstatic about their gains finally being in the books.
The Ohio Department of Education released the official report card last week, some six months late. The delay was the result of the ongoing investigation by state auditor David Yost into alleged irregularities in the reporting of student attendance by school districts throughout the state.
Whitehall earned an "effective" rating, as reflected in last week's official release.
"Obviously, the information that was released is not new," Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy said. "However, we were very happy to actually have a copy of the official report card with our effective status on the front.
"The district has worked very hard over the past few years, and despite a constantly changing demographic, we achieved the goal that had been eluding us: effective status," she said. "Our goal now will be to keep or even improve that status to excellent."
After more than 10 years at the helm of the school district, Dobbert-Meloy was a little more than pleased to announce to her staff that the district had finally earned an effective rating on the state report card.
Facing copious challenges, including a highly mobile and economically disadvantaged population, a growing number English as a Second Language learners and continual state funding cuts, the district's leaders always have known their job would not be easy.
"I am so glad that everyone who has been working to achieve this improvement has had that hard work verified by our improvement," Dobbert-Meloy said. "As you are aware, we earned our effective status because of our Value-Added scores. Basically, we achieved more than a year's worth of academic growth with our students last year. I think we can all feel really good about that."
Nearly 80 percent of Whitehall's student population is economically disadvantaged. Almost 15 percent are limited English-proficient. Moreover, turnover rates at some Whitehall schools have been known to reach 50 percent in any given year.
Still, despite challenges, the district was able to make some significant progress with students.
According to data released by ODE, teachers were responsible for helping students gain more than a year's worth of growth last year. The measure is called Value-Added and rewards districts for helping students grow academically, even if they are not yet reaching state benchmarks.
The state education department ranked districts according to their Value-Added score for the first time this year, releasing that information last week. Whitehall ranked 262nd among the 832 districts in the state for the amount of growth its students had made last year.
Dobbert-Meloy said she knows work remains to be done.
"An area where we still need to improve is the AYP (adequate yearly progress) measure, which looks at the achievement of our various subgroups," she said. "We do have subgroups that are not growing as quickly academically as others. That is an area that we will be working to improve next year."
State data indicate Whitehall met 13 of the state's 26 academic benchmarks, slightly higher than last year. It also raised its performance-index score by two-tenths of a point.
The big difference this year is that the district earned an "above" designation in the Value-Added category. The progress of each student (as opposed to a one-time snapshot) is what is used to assess the effectiveness of a school or district.
Whitehall was not a focus of the state's investigation into "scrubbing" although Dobbert-Meloy weighed in on the issue.
"I am saddened to see that there were individuals who chose to do this kind of thing because it is now impacting their entire district," she said. "There is a tremendous amount of pressure to ensure that students are achieving today. However, when you do not follow the rules, it seems that it usually comes home to haunt you at some point."
Those schools and districts where the state has found evidence of data-rigging received their final report card, but it carries with it a disclaimer that the results are "District results under review by the Ohio Department of Education, based on 2011 findings by the Auditor of State."