Last week, the highly anticipated state report cards came with no overall A to F letter grades for each public school district, different from years past.

Although eastern suburban and Geauga districts saw a dip in the student performance indexes for 2020-2021, they still did well in the face of coronavirus pandemic challenges, area superintendents said.

The Solon City School District scored the highest in the area with Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District and West Geauga Local School District also exceeding 100 points, according to state records. The index tops out at 120.

Solon Superintendent Fred Bolden said that “the pandemic years were definitely challenging for students around the state.

“Solon students again earned the state’s highest achievement score this year with a performance index score of 108,” he said. “But as always, we know we have work to do to be sure we are addressing the needs of all students.”

Solon’s 108 index for 2020-2021 is lower than the 112.6 index from 2018-2019. Chagrin Falls received 105.5 in the latest report card compared to 109.2 in 2018-2019 and West G had 103 versus 104 in the same time periods. No scores were issued for 2019-2020 due to COVID-19.

“I am extremely proud of the work that West Geauga’s teachers and students demonstrated during a very difficult pandemic year,” Superintendent Richard Markwardt said. “West Geauga is fortunate to be a community where 80 percent of our students were able to access in-person instruction in schools for nearly the entire year.”

Due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, area districts bounced between in-person and remote classes.

“The data in the school report card reflects the resiliency and commitment of our students, staff and community during unprecedented times,” Chagrin Falls Superintendent Jennifer Penczarski said.

All but five of Ohio’s 607 public school districts saw a dip in the index score, officials from the Ohio Department of Education said.

Other area district index scores comparing 2020-2021 to 2018-2019 include: Chardon 97.35 vs. 101.7; Kenston 99.8 vs. 104.7; Cardinal 77 vs. 84; Berkshire 76.7 vs. 89.1 and Orange 96.9 vs. 105.38.

There are six categories on the state report card, including achievement, progress, gap closing, graduation, prepared for success and improving at-risk kindergarten through third-grade readers.

“I don’t like the term ‘learning loss,’” Orange Superintendent Lynn Campbell said of the phrase often used in the media regarding gaps in education during the pandemic. “Standardized tests are meant for standardized experiences and we were far from it this year.”

Although the schools were not assigned letter grades, Dr. Campbell said Orange still submitted their usual information, including standardized test scores and their graduation rate. He said that the fear of the “COVID-19 slide,” in which students are behind due to missing classroom time, never came to fruition.

Chardon district officials called this a unique year where staff, parents and students worked together to promote learning.

Berkshire Superintendent John Stoddard questioned the value of the index scores. “There is not much validity and reliability in the report card data considering the high volumes of students who went untested and who were receiving instruction online last school year due to COVID-19.”

Orange’s test results were not “typical” for the district, Dr. Campbell said, but the report card still showed that the students learned and made progress. In 11 out of 13 categories for progress, including varying grades and school subjects, Orange students made more progress than statewide standards expected, he said. Students made expected progress in seventh grade mathematics and less than expected progress in sixth grade English language arts.

“We can’t deny there are people who were impacted by COVID-19 and may not be where they would have been,” Dr. Campbell said. “But they didn’t go backwards. They weren’t less educated, and it’s the whole nation. I’m motivated by this growth. A lot of kids did really well.”

Even though students fluctuated between in-person learning, virtual learning and a hybrid model at Orange, they came to the school for in-person testing. Dr. Campbell said some parents, understandably, were not comfortable with their children entering school buildings during the pandemic so they did not participate in testing. Students were more anxious this past year than other years, Dr. Campbell said. The testing environment had COVID-19 safety protocols in place, such as masks and socially distanced desks.

Orange’s graduation rate was 98.3 percent, which Dr. Campbell said would be an A grade if the district was scored. The district also earned a 76.4 percent in the prepared for success category. Dr. Campbell said the SAT is required for all juniors at Orange High School.

“I think the standardized test scores you’re seeing are from a very standardized procedural testing process being taken after kids endured an environment and conditions that were anything but standard,” he said. “We would be naive to think that didn’t have an impact on something so structured as standardized testing.”

Chardon officials noted that the district ranked 39 out of the 607 districts in Ohio and that the average statewide decline was 9 points while Chardon’s was only about 4.5 points, presumably due to the impact of COVID-19.

Kenston offficials said the standardized results are just one piece of data used to develop instructional plans and they are proud of their work inspiring students.

Solon’s Mr. Bolden said the information from the state this year is useful. Teams within each Solon school building “have already begun digging into the results to analyze each student’s performance,” he said. “The principals and teachers look at where students excelled as well as identifying any gaps in their learning.”

Times reporters contributed to this story.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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