Salem schools: Better despite new ‘grades’

SALEM — Letter grades handed down by the state do not reflect the success of Salem City Schools — that’s the consensus of Superintendent Dr. Joe Shivers and school board members reacting to recent state report card results.

“Salem schools are in good shape and only getting better,” Shivers said.

During Monday’s school board meeting, he reviewed a report compiled earlier in the day by a group which included Shivers, Curriculum Director Jaime Kemats and school board members Howard Rohleder and LuAnn Haddad, looking at this year’s report card data, which was released by the state last week, data from previous years, ACT test scores, graduation rates, other measures of student success and what the district has been doing to prepare students for the ever-changing state standards and tests.

Their conclusion?

“Despite what the report card suggests, our student performance is improving,” the report said.

The district went from an “excellent” rating on the 2014 state report card to grades ranging from A to F in 2017. To be exact, the 11 letter grades included one A, one B, four Cs, three Ds and two Fs.

What they said happened in that time from 2014 to 2017 was this: the Ohio Department of Education changed the measurement and rating system three times, using different tests, different formats (from paper/pencil, to mix of paper/pencil and computer, to all computer from third grade to high school) and even upping the cutoff for meeting indicators for the 24 state test subject areas from 75 percent to 80 percent.. In those same years, the Salem composite scores for the ACT test used by colleges to gauge student readiness for secondary education actually improved, from 21.1 in 2014 to 22.4 in 2017. They also concluded if the state testing and rating systems in place in 2014 were still in place now, Salem would still rate “excellent.”

Rohleder questioned how the state can get what a district does down to a single grade, which is what the state has planned for next year.

“They don’t allow a system to stay in place long enough for people to adapt. If they would leave us alone for awhile, schools would have the opportunity to adjust,” he said.

In looking at the district’s test results for 2017 vs. 2016, the report said Salem’s performance improved in 12 areas. In comparing Salem’s results to 20 similar districts and the state average for all districts, Salem improved in 13 areas.

In looking at the graduation rate, Salem improved from 88.70 percent in 2014 to 89.20 percent in 2016.

In the area of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, 100 percent of third graders advanced to fourth grade by meeting the standards of the guarantee despite the report card showing that more than 40 percent of Salem kindergarteners aren’t on track and may be two years behind when they start school. The success of having all the third graders meeting the reading guarantee was attributed to the Buckeye and Reilly elementary school teachers and principals and the reading interventions introduced in recent years to help students.

Some of those interventions have included: Level Literacy at K-2, which is expanding to grades three and four; having seven teachers certified to teach English Language Learners; Small Group reading; and Grapeseed curriculum for non-English speaking students. The district has also introduced new curriculum and programs to help students prepare for the changes to state standards, with keyboard training in second grade and the one-to-one Chromebook initiative to ensure every student has access to computers to improve their computer skills. New software is being used to simulate the new testing formats to help assess students, interventions are being used related to common core subjects, such as math and science and staff members have been added to help with intervention, including an elementary guidance counselor, an English Language Learner teacher at the junior high and high school levels, fourth grade intervention and post secondary transition.

Shivers said the district is focused on every student graduating and every third grader being able to read. The progress of at risk students is monitored and individualized plans are implemented for students beginning in sixth grade if necessary to ensure they get a diploma.

For this school year, the district is focused on using the Chromebooks to prepare students for computer-based testing and for life after high school, using the Illuminate software for assessing students and simulating tests, evaluating English Language Arts curriculum to improve test performance, expanding math curriculum to all junior high students, using Google classroom to meet learning needs and continuing to provide more support for the most vulnerable students.

School board President Steve Bailey said anyone with questions about the educational process or the test results should contact Shivers at the administration building. Even though the report card grades are what the public sees, he said “I don’t feel that it truly represents the hard work of our students, teachers, administrators, an all our other staff members.”

He added that every school board member is committed to giving Salem students the best education possible.

To kick off the meeting, the board congratulated senior Jacob Pittman, whose score on the PSAT puts him in the elite both here and across the country as a national merit semi-finalist, soon-to-be finalist once he takes the SAT. Shivers said the last national merit finalist for Salem was in 2009, but the first was as far back as 1954, a testament to the education being provided to Salem students for many, many years.