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Ohio Report Card declines show most vulnerable districts hit hardest

State report cards showed widespread declines across the state due to the impact of the pandemic. [Ashton Marra/ Ideastream Public Media file photo]
Campus International students in Cleveland

School district report cards for the 2020-2021 school year released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Education show that the pandemic has been bad for education and particularly tough for students in poorer, urban districts. 

The department of education warned districts statewide to brace themselves because results are down this year. It's no surprise, said Interim Chief Program Officer Chris Woolard.

“Not only are they down, but it's our most vulnerable students that have been the most impacted,” Woolard said. “So, some of our traditionally underserved subgroups of students are those who are seeing the biggest decreases and can in some ways, that's not surprising as we sort of understand how, you know, how the past year has played out.”

The report cards revealed the pandemic had a very negative impact on student performance. Kids in the big urban districts, who were in remote learning for almost the entire academic year, were hit especially hard.

The report cards don’t include grades or district ranking this year due to legislation that determined the report cards should be more about gauging how students performed during the pandemic and less about being punitive for any shortfalls.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District scores showed students struggled when it came to test performance and attendance.

Overall, CMSD scored 32% in the performance index category, which measures the test results of every student in the district, compared to 72.5% statewide.

“We dropped 20 points, and that's dramatic. But the other seven urbans [Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown] dropped 21.5%,” said CMSD CEO Eric Gordon. “And so we held our own, at least in communities that are somewhat similar to us, even though we have the highest childhood poverty of any of those other urban districts. The state itself dropped 12 points. So, while our drop was bigger, it wasn't bigger by a huge margin even there.”

The district’s report card results confirmed what the district already knew about the pandemic’s impact on learning, Gordon said. And it’s going to take more than a summer or even a year to recover from the year of lost learning.

“We knew that COVID had a massive impact on Cleveland and on districts across the state, over the course of the last year,” Gordon said. “The numbers are stark. They're not surprising. But even in the darkness, there are some promising elements that show some of the things we tried to do may have had a positive impact, even compared to peers and other state data.” 

Only 18% of third graders in CMSD passed the English Language Arts test, although the report card also indicates 93% of the district’s third graders met the reading guarantee requirements for promotion to fourth grade.

Gordon noted CMSD’s third grade reading decline was smaller than the other big, urban districts in Ohio.

“We declined by 5.73% over the year prior. The other seven urbans actually declined by 6.54%, so larger collectively than CMSD. And the state declined by 13.5% statewide,” Gordon said. 

Fifty-five percent of CMSD students were chronically absent last year, but 81% of high school seniors graduated.

CMSD has been working to help their students overcome learning gaps such as the summer learning experience, Gordon said, as well as providing support for teachers.  

“We're rolling those same kinds of programs out this year, so a very deliberate coaching and support for teachers in reading and math explicitly,” Gordon said. “We have again been continuing the enrichment projects, available extensions to get kids engaged in things that we know raise literacy math rates like more music programming or art programming or sports programming.” 

CMSD is also offering schools additional resources to provide extra tutoring and weekend and winter break programs.

Akron Public Schools

Overall, Akron students scored 33% in the performance index category. More than a quarter of the district’s third graders passed the English Language Arts test, though 99.5% of those kids met the Third Grade Reading Guarantee requirements for promotion to fourth grade.

“This year’s report card not only sets a higher bar for all Ohio districts, but provides a baseline for measuring district progress now and in the future,” said Akron Schools Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack.

Twenty-six percent of Akron students missed more than 18 days of school, but that chronic absentee rate was better than Ohio’s other seven largest school districts, said Fowler Mack.

Akron continued to show improvement in its graduation rate with about 83% of high school seniors earning their diplomas in four years.

The district says it is focused on intensive tutoring, summer learning, after school programs and other supports as it works to address lost learning from the pandemic.