The Athens City School District is figuring out how to integrate students from across the district to address inequality in student performance.
Data provided by the Ohio Department of Education’s report card and observations by the district show a performance gap between the district’s four elementary schools.
Based on data in the report card, The Plains Elementary and East Elementary had a difference in performance index of roughly 26.5 percentage points. The performance index has seven levels — advanced, accelerated, proficient, basic, limited, untested and advanced plus — that measured the test results of all students.
Thomas Gibbs, the superintendent of the Athens City School District, said it is “common knowledge in the field” that low student performance on tests is correlated to poverty, and he thinks the Ohio Department of Education has unreasonable expectation for schools in high poverty areas like The Plains.
“They tend to think that is going to miraculously change, and it's been that way for years and years,” Gibbs said.
The Plains Elementary is the only elementary school in the district that receives Title I funding, Gibbs said. Title I provides federal funding to schools with students who are from low-income families “to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
The Plains Elementary struggles the most academically compared with other elementary schools in the district, with an average of 38.6 percent of third- through sixth-grade students passing state tests, according to data on state testing. An average of about 44 percent of third- through sixth-grade students passed the state's English exams, about 40 percent passed the state's math exams and about 30 percent of fourth- and sixth-grade students passed the state's social studies exams.
In comparison, on average about 69 percent of third- through sixth-grade students in the district passed state exams. On average, 69 percent passed state English exams, 66 percent passed state math exams and about 74 percent of fourth and sixth grade students passed the state's social studies exams.
On average statewide, 66 percent of third- through sixth-grade students passed state exams, 63 percent passed state English exams, 66 percent passed state math exams and about 70 percent of fourth- and sixth-graders passed state social studies exams.
The elementary school in the district with the second-lowest percentage of third- through fourth-grade students passing state exams was Morrison Elementary with 70 percent. The elementary school with the highest percentage of third- through sixth-grade students passing state exams was East Elementary with 86 percent.
Gibbs said the district uses the data from state testing performance to identify areas of weakness in the curriculum, but he does not "beat teachers over the head with test scores."
“We discuss those as a group of professionals, and we talk about what we're doing and what we can do differently and better,” Gibbs said. "The district sets its goals not by focusing on test performance but on making sure students are prepared for whatever they decide to do after high school."
The district uses test results to figure out how it could improve as it prepares students for success beyond high school, Gibbs said.
“We talked about it in terms of not a specific measure but ensuring students have a set of academic and social skills that they can define what their success is and they can go out and do whatever they decide to do with their lives,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the district wants to find ways to decrease disparity. As of now, he said the best solution for the district to decrease disparity and raise the bar for students is socio-economic integration.
“There's no evidence it pulls anyone down,” Gibbs said. “It lifts one group up and everyone performs well.”
Jenny Kline, a candidate for school board, said she supports socio-economic integration to address inequality and is in favor of redistricting.
“If redistricting is done carefully and with all stakeholders in mind and given a voice, I think that this would be a part of a good solution for our district,” Kline said in an email.