The Johnstown area's school districts received good news from the state Department of Education last week, with both districts tentatively ranked as "excellent" on the state report card.

The Johnstown area's school districts received good news from the state Department of Education last week, with both districts tentatively ranked as "excellent" on the state report card.

Johnstown Monroe met 26 of 26 district indicators, while Northridge met 25 of 26.

"Every year the test changes, along with the students who do take the test, and that's what's important, is to focus on the current students," said Northridge Superintendent John Shepard. "It's not so much the rating but how the students are performing at grade level."

Fifth-grade math has been the sticking point at Northridge.

"(It's) one of the areas we did not pass last year and we did not pass this year," Shepard said. "We have been working all summer on that. We do a vertical and a horizontal analysis to try to make changes. Vertical is from one grade level to the next, while horizontal is how it crosses the curriculum (within a grade level)."

Laura Lawrence, Johnstown Monroe's director of curriculum, said science was the holdup last year at J-M.

"Science has been difficult for us," Lawrence said. "Last year, we did not pass fifth-grade or eighth-grade science and eighth-grade math. This is the first year we have met eighth-grade math."

"This is the first year we have met all 26 out of 26 indicators," Lawrence said. "We feel really great about that. Our teachers and students have worked really hard."

Lawrence said the district also did well on an alternative state measure called the "performance index."

"Our performance index as a district is over 100, 102.1, which means that we're working with students at all levels, moving lower students to be proficient and our proficient students to advanced levels," Lawrence said.

The report card is a complex combination of state and federal standards that involves both absolute test performance at eight different grade levels in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, and additional requirements for "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

AYP is measured by various racial and economic demographics and special education.

To meet the state standards, 75 percent of students must pass the subject test in reading and mathematics at all tested grade levels, and other subject tests such as science and social studies at selected grade levels. Additional, non-academic criteria include attendance and graduation rates.

Shepard said that generally, the testing regimen in Ohio is working, helping districts focus on individual students.

The report card is increasingly difficult to satisfy each year, because it assumes that at the end of a 10-year period, 100 percent of students will be proficient in the subjects tested.

"It's much higher with some of the individual subgroups," Lawrence said. "Reading, for example, in third-grade is 82.7 percent for all the subgroups. Those are increasing every year now, up to 100 percent for the 2013-2014 year. Our fourth-grade reading was 100 percent this year, so it can be done. It's difficult."

"I think it has stabilized," Shepard said. "We have a better understanding of assessment than we did 25 years ago. We have a better understanding of taking the data and using it to drive instruction.

"When I was in school, you got it or you didn't," he said. "Today we can't do that. You have to reach all students."