Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Oct. 2 newspaper on Page A1. This is part of a weeklong series providing insight into the Ohio Department of Education's report card data for each Athens County school district.
Supt. Tom Gibbs is honest in his assessment of the state report card system.
“Overall, I’m unimpressed by the report card,” Gibbs said. “Much of the information provided is not very helpful.”
Teachers and administrators within the Athens City School District take what they can get out of the annual report card, but Gibbs said this is just one aspect of self-reflection. He said leaders spend more time tracking individual student results and looking at the curriculum.
Nevertheless, the state has its say. Like with other districts, the Athens report card is an amalgam of optimism and critique.
To sum up, Athens state testing scores are decent in certain areas and shoddy in others; the district does a fair job “closing the gap” among minority students, but less so with students who have disabilities; and the state believes Athens does not do well at preparing graduates for success — despite ample evidence from Gibbs to the contrary.
Change is coming to the Athens City School District, with a major facilities overhaul now underway. Each school building in the district is being renovated or completely rebuilt.
Gibbs sees these facilities improvements as part of a broader strategy to improve the education provided to local students.
There are 24 indicators that make up a district’s Achievement score. One is related to “chronic absenteeism,” a problem the state says Athens is suffering from.
Each of the remaining 23 indicators reflect a state test, per grade level and subject: for instance, fifth grade science and high school algebra.
A district has to have 80 percent of its students pass a given state test to get an indicator check mark.
For Athens, there is a major split at play. The district passed in five of the 10 high school indicators.
The younger grades were a different story. Athens went 0-for-14 among third through eighth grades. Math grades are particularly weak — just 55 percent of fifth graders passed the state math test, along with 60 percent of seventh graders and 57 percent of eighth graders. The language and science scores weren’t much better for the lower grades.
For these reasons, Athens received a D score on the Achievement component for a second-straight year.
This component looks at how students fared on state tests compared to the year before.
Broadly speaking, Athens did well in this component. The district received a B overall grade, up from a C last year. Despite the middling test scores, the state still sees improvement among the entire student body. Gifted students also made better-than-anticipated progress in their various subjects.
“At the beginning of last school year we fully implemented new approaches to teaching Math and Language Arts, as well as ramping up our intervention programs for early literacy,” Gibbs wrote in an email detailing the report card results. “I believe we are starting to see the benefits of that work. (Progress) is the one indicator that we do look at closely, as it is the best indicator in regards to measuring improvement.”
Two other groups, however, fared very poorly in the eyes of the state: those with disabilities and those in the lowest 20 percent in achievement. Athens received F’s among those subcategories.
Gibbs claimed the district “leads the area in providing targeted intervention to students with dyslexia and are building a program that will be one of the best in Ohio.”
Athens maintained a B grade in this component. The state tracks how certain categories of students fare compared to Ohio’s average: minority students, those who are “economically disadvantaged” and those with disabilities.
Minority students in particular perform much better at Athens than elsewhere in the state, especially African-American and Hispanic students. Students from poor backgrounds perform about in line with the state average, as do those with disabilities.
In no area does a subgroup of Athens students perform worse than the state average.
Of all the Bulldogs who entered their freshman year at Athens High School in 2014, a total of 92.2 percent graduated in the Class of 2018.
That 4-year graduation rate gives Athens a B in this component, the same grade as last year.
Athens is well above the state average and has seen its graduation rate improve for two years in a row.
Improving At-Risk K-3 Readers
Districts are supposed to monitor the reading ability of each student. The goal is for all students to be proficient in English language arts by the end of third grade.
For those who are “not on track,” teachers create an individualized plan to get them back “on track.” This component judges a district’s ability to identify the struggling readers in their early years and guide them to read well by the third grade.
In one sample of students at the various elementary schools, a total of 181 students started “off track” and 49 of them were moved to “on track.”
Also, two-thirds of third grade students scored “proficient” on the state’s language arts test. While not a banner number, the state did find that over 96 percent of third grade students met the reading requirements to be promoted to the fourth grade.
Athens earned a D overall component grade, down from a C last year.
As previously mentioned, Gibbs noted the district is “ramping up” intervention programs for early literacy.
Prepared for Success
Here is a component and grade likely to stick in Gibbs’ craw.
For the second-straight year, Athens got a D in this component — which assesses a district’s ability to prepare graduates for life after high school.
In terms of college prep, few districts in the area can point to better results. More than 80 percent of Athens High School students took the ACT test. One-third of students graduated with an honors diploma. Nearly half of all AHS students earned some kind of “dual enrollment credit,” such as College Credit Plus.
The state dinged Athens hard in other aspects, though. The number of students taking Advanced Placement classes at AHS is quite low — just 2 percent. For comparison, 20 percent of students at Alexander High School do.
While most Bulldogs are prepared for college, almost none leave high school ready to enter the workforce in some type of trade. Fewer than 1 percent of graduates in 2017 and 2018 earned an “industry-recognized credential” by the time they wore their caps and gowns.
Every district in Athens County received a D or F on this component. Gibbs blames the report card rubric for this result.
“When you have segments of any report card where 80 percent or more of districts receive a ‘D’ or ‘F,’ there’s an obvious problem,” he said.
Gibbs said despite some of the report card results, he is “proud of our students, our staff and the support we have in the community.”