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Report card shows signs of recovery

CMSD’s new state report card shows what the District and families anticipated: Students struggled mightily during the pandemic. But the data also indicates that scores are improving.

The promising news is that some categories returned to pre-pandemic levels. And, overall, CMSD was the highest performing of Ohio’s eight urban systems.

“This report card tells us what we already knew,” CEO Eric Gordon said. “The pandemic hit us hard, but we can recover. Our surveys indicate that the community expected this. Families also said they were confident we could get their children back on an upward trend.”

Report cards have switched from letter grades to a scale of stars, with five being the highest. Districts did not receive an overall rating -- those will return in 2023. Report cards were issued last year; however, because of the pandemic, much of the data was incomplete.

Results were mixed. K-3 literacy received just one star, as did the graduation rate, which fell after climbing annually for 11 years, setting a new high each time. The four-year graduation rate dropped 6.6 points, from 80.9 percent to 74.3 percent.

Reflecting on the literacy score, CEO Gordon noted that students in classrooms where everyone was wearing masks could not see readers’ mouths as they formed words, a critical aid in developing the skill. The graduation rate, a lagging indicator, is for the Class of 2021, when students were mostly remote and could not get in-person experiences like career-tech labs required to receive credit. Some students are thought to have opted to work and help their families during a tough period.

On the positive side, success in closing achievement gaps and value-added, a gauge of progress, each received four stars, meaning the marks exceeded student growth and gap closing expectations. And while the District’s performance index, a measure of test scores, earned a rating of two stars, the numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The District, which has the highest rate of child poverty in the nation, was the only member of the Ohio 8 urban systems to score four stars in gap closing, and CMSD and Toledo were the only districts to receive four stars in value-added.

None of the districts did better than 2 stars on performance index, and the only system to get more than one star on graduation was Youngstown, which received two.

Gordon said CMSD will use extra tutoring and other supports to help students continue catching up. The District will soon roll out online tutoring that students can access 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The schools also will continue to pursue its new Vision for Learning, which calls for learning that students will find more relevant, engaging and personal.

The CEO credits students, teachers and families for the encouraging signs on the report card. He said he has asked teachers to stop “teaching to the test” and instead challenge students with complex tasks they will see as worthwhile.

“When we do really great teaching, the test results will take care of themselves,” he said.

In the years just before COVID-19, CMSD gained national attention for achieving growth that outpaced that of school districts across Ohio and the nation.

A study that the Council of the Great City Schools released last year said urban districts were exceeding expectations when their challenges were taken into account, and that CMSD stood out as a “window of opportunity” for students. Also last year, an Education Week piece featured CMSD among a select group of U.S. districts that were beating the odds.