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Report card shows impact of pandemic




The Cleveland Metropolitan School District made great progress in the last 10 years, but that momentum could not stand up under relentless battering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

CMSD’s new state report card, which was released Thursday, revealed the impact felt in the District during a statewide shutdown and more than a year in remote and hybrid learning.

The four-year graduation rate was a bright spot, reaching 80.9 percent, the latest in a series of record highs for the District. That mark is for the Class of 2020.

More current measurements took big hits, following a trend seen in Ohio’s other large urban school systems.

Proficiency scores, progress in closing achievement gaps and performance index – a composite of all test scores – all declined. Lower participation in tests, which, despite the pandemic, had to be taken in person, played a significant role.

“We are disappointed by these results but not surprised,” CEO Eric Gordon said. “While we made sure every student had a device and internet access, the abrupt switch to remote learning was jarring for families living in one of the poorest and worst connected cities in the nation.

“Many parents are frontline workers who could not be by their children’s sides during this challenging transition,” the CEO added. “Or their families were dealing with illness and death brought on by the coronavirus.”

CMSD students and educators have clearly proven what they can accomplish under better conditions.

In the years before the pandemic hit, CMSD achieved growth that ranked among the fastest in the state. The Cleveland Plan, a customized blueprint for education reform, fueled the improvement.

Nationally, a recent report by the Council of the Great City Schools highlighted CMSD among a select number of urban districts that stood out in beating the odds.

Titled “Mirrors or Windows: How Well do Large City Public Schools Overcome the Effects of Poverty and Other Barriers,” the report examined 10 years of results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as the Nation’s Report Card. CMSD was one of only six districts that consistently improved their performance during that period.

Education Week reported on the Council’s study and featured Cleveland in a piece headlined, “The Fastest Improving City School Districts Aren’t the Ones You Might Expect.”

Recovery will take time, but with students back in person five days a week, the District has launched a bold new vision of learning designed to accelerate the process.

Besides assessing students and coming up with plans to meet their individual needs, schools are introducing project-based learning and other engaging approaches designed to take students to deeper levels of learning.

The District also is making school more appealing by expanding arts, music and extracurricular activities, placing a healthcare professional in every building and making sure students and families keep their access to technology and reliable, high-speed internet.

The CMSD Summer Learning Experience served as a prototype for the new vision. More than 8,400 students were signed up for one or both of the four-week sessions.

Lester Holt and NBC Nightly News came to town to highlight the summer program and its goals. And ABC News recently featured the District’s efforts to bridge the digital divide as part of its “America Strong” series.

“CMSD’s move to expand experiential learning, blended learning and other strategies is worthy of attention,” Gordon said. “We envision a style of education unlike any we have known before, and those will be critical components for addressing the achievement gaps exasperated by COVID.”