Mixed bag for Amherst’s state report card

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

The 2016 Momentum Award goes to the Amherst school system for straight A’s on the progress section of the Ohio state report card.

District assistant superintendent Michael Molnar described the report card as “fantastic” in a recorded Comet Conversations segment with superintendent Steven Sayers.

Amherst is one of only 58 districts in Ohio and the only one in Lorain County to receive four A’s in the progress category. Amherst Junior High and Nord Middle School also received the Momentum Award.

But the rest of the annual grades, released earlier this month, are a smattering of B’s, C’s, and even a couple of D’s.

“The report card is a snapshot of what we do, and only a small portion of what we do,” Molnar said.

The district likes to promote its successes, but he admitted the data shows a need to improve in some areas.

The Amherst Schools earned a C overall for achievement and a low B in the annual performance index, measuring how students did on standardized tests.

The Ohio Department of Education noted that 23 percent of local test-takers were ranked advanced, 28 percent were ranked as accelerated, and another 29 percent were ranked as simply proficient. About 13 percent were deemed basic while 6.4 percent were considered limited.

About one percent were considered “advanced plus,” the highest possible ranking.

When it came to how many kids passed the exams, Amherst scored a D.

Signs of struggle: Passage rates were in the 70s for third grade and fourth grade English, sixth grade math and social studies, and eighth grade English. At Steele High School, kids struggled moderately with biology and English tests, while only 65 percent passed geometry and 69 percent passed algebra I.

In all, the state education department said an acceptable number of kids passed just 58.3 percent of the standardized tests.

The district earned a C for gap closing, which measures improvement among kids from diverse backgrounds.

Nearly 92 percent of Amherst students graduated with four years at the high school and almost 95 percent earned diplomas within a five-year window — for a B on the graduation rate section of the report card.

And Amherst was given a D for “prepared for success,” which measures whether kids are ready for life after graduation.

The low grade largely reflects how many kids needed remediation after taking the ACT or SAT college entrance exams.

The Firelands Schools, which cover portions of Amherst city and township, also had mixed grades.

C’s and B’s in several areas were balanced on the high end with an A for graduation rates (93.5 percent in four years, 96.4 percent in five years).

On the low end, there was an F for state test passage rates as Firelands didn’t meet state expectations for two-thirds of exams.

By way of comparison, students at the Avon Schools got flying colors in all tests save high school geometry. North Ridgeville, meanwhile, only had a sufficient number of students pass two of the state’s 25 tests.

The state report card’s accuracy has come under fire in the last few years.

This fall’s releases resulted in some districts attempting to distance themselves from the grades.

“I want us to keep in mind that our students are not a test score,” wrote David Hall, superintendent in nearby Oberlin. “Research from psychologist Carl Rogers has made clear that humans are as much emotional creatures as cognitive ones. Learning is transactional, not just cognitive, but emotional. Research also indicates that student measurement systems that assess after the learning has occurred does not lead to high student achievement and or growth. With that being said, if you are a parent or community member, you should hesitate to place blame as you are left to interpret what (test scores) actually mean.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twtiter.

By Jason Hawk