Anemic urban academic performance data show little reason for cheer

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has analyzed the academic performance of schools in Ohio’s Big 8 cities annually since 2003. This year, we kept up the tradition and examined the number of Big 8 district and charter students attending schools rated A, B, C, D, or F, as well as how many attended schools that met, exceeded, or didn’t accomplish one year of academic growth (according to Ohio’s value-added measure) in 2009-10.

As in previous years, it’s sobering to see how little student achievement has moved for the state’s neediest students recently. In short, academic proficiency is stuck in place for most children in these communities. Other key findings from this year’s academic data include:

  • The percent of students in Ohio’s eight major urban communities attending a school rated A or B was 26 percent, while the number attending a D or F school was 47 percent (akin to last year).
  • Cincinnati made gains, earning the Effective rating, and Cleveland moved up to Continuous Improvement; yet despite these gains, a great number of students in both cities attended schools stuck in academic perdition (64 percent of district and charter students in Cleveland attended a D or F school, while 43 percent in Cincinnati did so).
  • Several cities fared poorly on Ohio’s value-added measure (notably Columbus and Akron) with many schools – district and charter – not meeting one year’s worth of growth. (For an explanation of this year’s changes to value-added, see here.)
  • Dayton and Youngstown especially continue to deliver shockingly poor results, with 72 percent of public school students in Youngstown, and 65 percent in Dayton, in a D or F school.
  • In Dayton and Cleveland (like last year), many of the city’s top-rated schools are charters (eight of the top ten in Dayton and six of the top ten in Cleveland).

We commissioned our colleagues at the education policy and research firm Public Impact to do a fuller analysis of urban school performance in the Buckeye State.  They looked at proficiency rates by subject among district schools, charter schools, and e-schools, as well as performance over several years. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate reading and math proficiency over time for district and charter schools in the Big 8 cities. They weave a similar narrative – Ohio has been running in place when it comes to academic progress for the state’s neediest children, despite having been ahead of the curve in recent years when it comes to reforms like academic content standards, assessments, data systems, school choice, and heaps of other reforms (not to mention the steady increase in funding for K-12 education.

Figure 1: Average reading proficiency of students in Ohio's Big 8 schools over time

Figure 2: Average math proficiency of students in Ohio's Big 8 schools over time

The same performance plateau plagues the state’s e-schools, as figures 3 and 4 illustrate.

Figure 3: Average reading proficiency of Ohio e-school students, compared to statewide proficiency

Figure 4: Average math proficiency of Ohio e-school students, compared to statewide proficiency

Looking at the data from another angle, very few charter or district schools reached the highest levels of performance in 2009-10 (as measured by both Performance Index scores – a weighted average of proficiency results of all tested students, and valued-added measures). Figure 5 shows that just 16 of 518 Big 8 district and charter schools (which have proficiency and value-added data) were both high-achieving and helping their students attain at least a year’s worth of academic progress. 

Figure 5: Big 8 District and Charter Schools, Performance Index and Value-Added Composite, 2009-10

Data for the charts comes from Ohio's interactive Local Report Card.

After analyzing student achievement data for eight years, we’ve gotten used to seeing some perennially dismal results in Ohio’s urban schools and mining the data for some bright spots – areas of improvement or trends indicating that particular districts or high-flying charter schools are doing great work and lifting student performance.  And we do our best to highlight such top performers because they show us that quality schools can and do make a difference.

Showing the positive is important to us as researchers and education reformers because we realize that this bleak data actually represents real children and their futures. Having tracked these anemic results now for seven years it is painful to realize how many children have failed to receive the basic education they need for a shot at success. And, worse, how little progress has been made in creating the conditions for their younger brothers and sisters to have a better shot at success.   

But high-performing schools for our neediest children do not happen by accident. If we want more of them to serve more kids successfully grown-ups have to make it happen.

To see our full analysis of local report card data click here.

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