School district earns five stars in all but two areas

by Laura Bednar

The Independence Local School District received an overall four-star rating on the 2023 state report card. The Ohio Department of Education’s star-based system defines four stars as “exceeding state standards.”

The state rates schools in five categories: performance on state tests; student progress; reducing learning gaps for student subgroups; measuring four- and five-year adjusted class graduation rates; and reading improvement and proficiency for students in kindergarten through third grade.

Independence earned five stars in all but two categories: early literacy, which received three stars, and overall progress, which received two.

Mike Pennington, director of curriculum and technology integration, said of the progress category, the state uses a student’s spring test score and projects next year’s score based on the state average.

“We tried not to focus on the tests as what we’re preparing students for,” said Pennington. He added that emphasizing internal data and assessing students throughout the year allows the district to see the areas where they struggle.

One problem area was middle school math, which fell short of growth expectations. Pennington said the district’s gifted coordinator is reviewing data used to determine if a student should take accelerated math. The math department said the district needs more course options, which could include a higher-level fifth- or sixth-grade math course, according to Pennington.

“We are making more informed decisions and if a student isn’t ready for a course, we won’t put them in it,” he said.

The early literacy category measures students’ reading improvement from kindergarten through third grade. The percentage of students who remained “off-track” exceeded the percentage of “on-track” students for each grade level, according to the report card.

Pennington explained that because Independence is a small district, a couple of students remaining off-track can cause a large percentage shift.

“Those not on track are put on a reading improvement plan,” he said.

Reading tutor Lynn Metzger has gone through LETRS training, or Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, a program that instructs teachers what literacy skills need to be taught and how to teach them, according to news organization Education Week.

She works with students in a small group setting during school. Pennington said Independence is in its second year of using LETRS and “school districts are starting to see gains.”

A committee of Independence Primary School teachers is working on a new English Language Arts curriculum for kindergarten through fourth-grade. The committee includes a representative from the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio, and part of the process includes seeing curriculum options in action. Pennington said the committee visited the Revere Local School District and spoke with teachers about their curriculum.

Overall, Pennington said the Independence report card saw “less of a dip in student success this year as compared to COVID-19 times.”

He attributed this in part to the return of in-person classroom instruction and students able to interact with one another.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the community, and we are always working on categories even if we score high,” Pennington said. ∞