The South-Western City School District received failing grades on two of the six components of the 2016-17 state report card released Sept. 14 by the Ohio Department of Education.

The district received F's in the gap closing and progress components, D grades for achievement and prepared for success, a C for graduation rate and a B in K-3 literacy.

"Obviously, we're not where we want to be," said Brad Faust, South-Western's assistant superintendent of curriculum. "We'll be reviewing the data and looking for the areas where we need to make changes and do better."

The gap-closing component shows how well districts are meeting the educational needs of the most vulnerable students. The measure compares how well students in several subgroups. including those in poverty, ethnic minorities and students with disabilities, fared compared with other students.

The report card shows South-Western received a score of 38.7 percent out of a possible 100 percent in annual measurable objectives, which compare the performance of student groups in English language arts, math and graduation rate to state goals in each category.

"We're not looking to make excuses, but when you have a district as large as ours, it lends itself to be a little more complicated because there are so many more factors that have to be taken into account," Faust said. "The variables in income, diversity, culture, the number of English as a Second Language students we have, all of these issues are prevalent in our district."

The progress component measures the progress made by all students and subgroups of gifted students, students in the lowest 20 percent of academic performance and students with disabilities. The district received an F grade for each subgroup.

In the achievement component, South-Western received a D grade for its performance index score of 67.9 percent, tallying 81.5 points out of a possible 120.

The performance index measures the test results of every student, not just those who score proficient or higher. There are six levels on the index and districts receive points for every student in each of these levels. The higher the achievement level, the more the points awarded in the district's index.

The district failed to benchmark for passage rates on every state test, receiving an F and a 0 percent score for indicators met.

Faust said the state raised the benchmark from 75 to 80 percent of students passing for each test and that last year marked only the second year the same test had been given in each subject and grade level.

"We are acclimating ourselves to having the same test for consecutive years." he said. "Our younger students were taking the tests online for the first time and there are the tougher standards the state has set.

"Again, we're not making excuses. We need to do better," Faust said.

There are aspects of the district's state report card that can be celebrated, he said.

The district received a B for the K-3 literacy component, which looks at how successful a district is at getting struggling readers on track to proficiency in third grade and beyond.

South-Western had 52.2 percent of its young readers move from being off track to on track by the end of the school year and 84.4 percent of the district's third-graders met the Ohio Third-Grade Reading Guarantee requirements for promotion to fourth grade.

"Our graduation rate is on the rise and we're seeing more of our students earning college credits in high school," Faust said.

Student performance in fourth- through sixth-grade language arts and math is also improving, he said.

"The thing about the state report card is that it measures data from the last school year," Faust said. "But we can glean things from that data that we can use to help us determine where we need to make changes and adjustments in curriculum and instruction."

Chris Woolard, a senior executive director at the Ohio Department of Education, cautioned that the proper context is needed to understand the grades a district receives on the state report card.

"We encourage parents and community members to talk to teachers and talk to principals," Woolard said.

Woolard said the report cards should not be the lone piece of evidence residents use to judge a district.

"We know there's a lot more to the story," he said.

Faust agrees with that.

"There's a lot more involved in what's going on in schools than what shows up on the state report card," he said. "There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work we do. Helping students grow socially and emotionally is an important part of our mission and that's not measured on the report card."

Woolard said the report cards are "designed to be aspirational."

"The whole point of the system is it's designed to be a system of continuous improvement," he said.

Students could be achieving a lot in districts that have D's or F's on their report cards, Woolard said.

"It does not mean that your school district is failing," he said.

ThisWeek staff writer Thomas Gallick contributed to this story.

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