Aurora -- Portage County school officials now have a glimpse of the A to F grading system the state will use to rank school districts in the future.

The Ohio Department of Education released simulated report cards April 10 based on each district's 2011-12 data. The new ranking system, which ranks each district from A to F in nine categories, will replace the current system, which ranks districts from "excellent with distinction" to "academic emergency."

Aurora schools, which were rated "excellent with distinction" in the 2011-12 school year, received A's in most of the categories, including performance indicators, performance index and value added all students, using the rating system that will be phased in over the next few years starting this fall.

Superintendent Russ Bennett, referring to the numerous A's on the simulated report card, said there is "a lot to celebrate. We're real pleased. Things look very good, which we would expect here in Aurora. But there is also a lot to explain."

One item is Aurora's C grade in the "value added for gifted students" category, he said.

"A C indicates you've met the standard of growth for the students," Bennett said, adding that the only way to receive an A is to be two standards above that.

"With our gifted students already performing in the high 90th percentile, there is no way to do that," he explained. "So a C gives a different connotation, but we've still met the target."

ANOTHER item, Bennett said, is that Aurora received a B in annual measurable objectives. He said only 4.6 percent of school districts statewide received an A in that category.

"They're trying to make things a little more difficult for us," he said. "In our minds, we have room to grow, but Aurora still did very well."

Kent Superintendent Joe Giancola said the new grading system could be easier to understand for parents and community members.

"We all grew up with ... A, B, C, D, F," he said. "We didn't grow up with the connotations of what's the difference between excellent with distinction, excellent, effective and continuous improvement."

Kent schools were one of four Portage districts to achieve an excellent with distinction rating when the report cards were finalized in February. The simulated report card released April 10 showed the state would have given the district four A's, four B's and one C under the system that will be officially in place by the end of this school year.

Giancola said he was pleased with the grades his district received, and committed the district toward working toward A grades in all categories.

Ravenna Superintendent Dennis Honkala, whose district was ranked "effective" in the prior report card, said he's not surprised by the results. The district scored a mix of C's, D's and F's, scoring lowest in all "value added" categories and in "annual measurable objectives." The only C grades were in performance index and five-year graduation rate.

HONKALA SAID the value-added scores, which have been part of the report cards since 2007, measure the progress of individual students over the course of a year.

"It's nothing we weren't aware of and nothing we aren't already working on," he said. "Ravenna has been struggling with value-added for several years."

The Ohio Department of Education's website states that up to three years of calculations are used and schools are not penalized for a single year of poor growth.

"Just because a school may have a low achievement level in a given year does not mean that students are not learning," a document on the site reads. "In fact, there may be a great deal of academic growth taking place moving students toward academic success.

"Conversely, there is a misconception that high achievers have met their potential and can no longer advance their learning. This measure highlights the importance of providing the curriculum and instruction that will help all students to grow academically every year."

Record-Courier staff writers Thomas Gallick and Diane Smith contributed to this story.


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