CH-UH teachers and students earn top scores

Congratulations are in order for the teachers and students of Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools.

Numerous studies have shown that scores on standardized tests (what much of our State Report Card grades are based on) do not reflect the quality of a school’s education so much as they reflect the socioeconomic background of the particular children in a school.

The report card’s only real measure of how well teachers are teaching and how well students are learning is called “Value Added," which means pretty much what its name says: how much academic value was added to a child’s educational life in the course of one school year? The measurement is straightforward: assess a child’s reading abilities or math skills once in the fall and again in the spring to show student academic growth.

According to the Ohio Department of Education’s website, Value Added “is your district’s average progress for its students in math and reading, grades 4–8. It looks at how much each student learns in a year. Did the students get a year’s worth of growth? Did they get more? Did they get less?”

There are four categories in which districts are graded: Overall Student Population, Gifted Students, Students Achieving in the Lowest 20th Percentile, and Students with Disabilities.

In 2014–15 (the most recent data available), CH-UH earned A’s in every Value Added category, for the third year in a row—which means that teachers are teaching and students are learning.

How can this be, one might ask, when many of the other test performance measures are low?

Consider this scenario, which I've shared before because it so perfectly captures the reality of Heights schools: A fourth-grader moves into our district from another district, reading at a first-grade level. That child is placed in a small class with a reading specialist to learn the necessary reading skills. Imagine he works extra hard, as does his teacher, and demonstrates one-and-a-half years’ worth of growth at the end of one year. That’s awesome! That is better than expected and means he succeeded, with the help of his teachers, in moving from reading at first-grade level to reading at halfway through second-grade level.

It also means, unfortunately, that when he takes the state-mandated fourth-grade reading test, he will fail. And that failure is what people will point to in the newspaper to say that our district is also failing, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Comparisons with other districts may help underscore just how well our district is doing in educating students of every level, in each of the four value-added categories. While Solon was one of the few districts across Ohio to do as well as CH-UH, other schools scored lower:

Shaker earned F, C, F, F; Hudson: A, A, C, A; Cleveland Municipal: C, C, C, F; Lakewood: A, C, A, A; Rocky River: B, B, C, F; Mayfield: B, A, C, C.

This is not a fluke. Some districts’ Value Added scores have fluctuated wildly (last year, Shaker had an A overall, this year an F; last year, East Cleveland had an F overall, this year an A), but CH-UH has remained impressively consistent, receiving straight A’s for three years in a row.

It should be noted that there are many other measures of how well a teacher is teaching or a student is learning that aren’t as easily quantifiable and therefore not considered on our report cards. But because that’s what we use, let’s be sure the published grades actually mean something. Our state-assigned Value Added grades prove that our teachers are teaching all students, from the one with disabilities to the one identified as gifted. They show that all those students are learning, from the one who started at the bottom to the one who started at the top.

And that is a measure that actually matters.

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, a graduate of the Heights schools and a former Coventry School teacher. She is a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District, and a member of the Steering Committee for Citizens for Our Heights Schools, the volunteer group that runs school campaigns.

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Volume 9, Issue 9, Posted 11:16 AM, 09.01.2016