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Athens Middle School stands at 55 West State Street in Athens, Ohio.

Athens City School District ranks higher in state when adjusted for poverty

Athens City School District has seen discrepancies in the rankings of its district based on whether the scale is adjusted for poverty or not.

Last year, ACSD received a C grading overall, and it also received a D in the Prepared for Success category and the Improving At-Risk K-3 Readers category. However, when adjusted for poverty, ACSD ranks 41 out of the 600 schools in the state. 

“It's not a system that really judges the efficacy of students learning,” Sean Parsons, president of the ACSD school board, said. “The truth is, our teachers in our schools are the ones that know how our students are learning, how well they're doing, how they meet certain things like progress. Our teachers know that, and a test is — no matter what the test is — is not going to show that.”

Parsons said that because tests are altered yearly, it isn’t a fair comparison. Factors such as whether the test is taken online or not can also affect scores. 

“A couple years ago, the system went down while they were taking a test, or they have things like they have to use a computer to take a test, and the kids don't know how to type,” he said. “They don't get a lot of functional computer training at that age level, and then we don't get a provision to provide that level of education. It's like you were asked to take a test using a tool, but you're not given the opportunity, the support to learn how to use that tool.”

Parsons also said he relies on the teachers to know their students the best in a way a singular test cannot. He said they are the people who are aware of the factors that may affect a child’s learning.

“They know their families. They know their ... home situation. They know the kind of social emotional challenges that those kids have,” Parsons said. “And a test ... does not consider those things, and we're educating young kids who have a whole host of challenges, and their teachers know what those are. They're getting our students where they need to go.”

A number of students within Athens City School District qualify for free and reduced lunches, which is one of the ways poverty can be measured in the area, Parsons said. He also said parents often express concern about the district report cards, but it is often a flawed ranking. 

“Yeah, I'd love to have high scores across the board ... But how could so many schools in the state be getting Cs and Ds?” Parsons said. “Why is there such a high rate of everybody doing poorly, right? Like if everybody's doing poorly, then again, this comes back to me as a professor, a teacher. All my students are failing a test. I probably have a problem with the test.”

Parsons said that he doesn’t think the ranking of a school based on standardized testing affects enrollment.

“We do have students, though, that will elect to go to other schools because they feel that the schools are better meeting the needs of their children in a variety of reasons,” he said. “And I understand that. I respect that.”

While the data for this school year isn’t available yet, Parsons said the reason kids may leave the school district is largely because their parents may teach in another district. However, Parsons said he is grateful for the parental involvement in the school and how many people there are who care. 

Tom Gibbs, superintendent of ACSD, has said on multiple occasions that he disagrees with how the schools are ranked by the state.

“When you have segments of any report card where 80 percent or more of districts receive a "D" or "F," there's an obvious problem,” Gibbs said in an email.

Gibbs said he hopes the new facilities being built will bring better results as well.

“I see these efforts as complementary components of an overall strategy to improve educational opportunity for all students,” Gibbs said in an email.

Gibbs said there are many things beyond the report card ranking that ACSD is accomplishing. 

“Athens High School was a National AP Honor Roll recipient again this year, our graduates continue to have average ACT scores that outpace the state of Ohio and the national averages, and we offer educational opportunities for advanced study that many other high schools in the state of Ohio do not offer,” he said in an email.

Gibbs also said over 200 students grades seven to 12 take college-level coursework, and an increasing number of students are earning college credit before graduation. 

“As a parent, community member and Superintendent, I am proud of our students, our staff, and the support we have in our community,” he said in an email. 

Heather Skinner, principal of The Plains Elementary School, has the highest level of poverty in Athens County at her school. She also sees a lot of differences in the children at her school.

“First, we are dealing with children,” Skinner said in an email. “There is nothing standard about that. All students develop physically, mentally, emotionally and academically at different levels. There are so many factors with teaching that a standardized test cannot measure.” 

Skinner also said not all students start from the same place as they each come from different backgrounds and upbringings. 

“So basing a school's performance (and student performance) on one assessment, on one particular day, of one particular school year is not fair,” Skinner said in an email. “What I'm basically saying is, there are too many outside factors that play a big part in a child's academic success, other than the school.”

Skinner sees little benefit to standardized testing and believes the results can have negative impacts on the community.

“I see no benefit unless you are wanting to see how schools perform in different areas of the state,” she said in an email. “Unfortunately, these types of reports can sway people and businesses from wanting to move to an area, where schools are ranked low due to the poverty level.”

Skinner agrees that the focus should be on the students.

“I am more concerned with growth,” she said in an email. “If our students are continuing to grow academically and at a pace of a year's growth or better every year that is what is most important to my teachers and me.”


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