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An Open Letter to the Springfield Community

An Open Letter to the Springfield Community:

With the release of the State Report Card today, it is important to remind our community that the educators and support staff in Springfield take our work very seriously and personally. As the leader of the District, I refuse to let the report card define the District, our dedicated educators and support staff, and our students. We are on the right path and we will continue to push forward. The District made progress in multiple areas. However, I always note that there is room for growth. I am honored to highlight the following:

  • 92% of our third grade students met the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and were promoted
  • AIR (state test) test scores improved in 9 of 23 tested subjects/grade levels
  • “Gap closing” improved in 6 of 30 measured areas

I am encouraged by our progress and I am very proud of all members of the Springfield City team who, on a daily basis, embody our core values of being student centered, collaborative, curious, and diverse. I know that our collaboratively developed strategic plan will allow us to continue to improve year after year.

It is also worth highlighting the “Prepared for Success” rating. Although the component grade was an “F”, it is not indicative of the preparation that we are providing to our students. Please note the following:

  • Our percentage ACT participation increased
  • Our students testing remediation free on the ACT increased
  • Significantly more students earned dual enrollment credit
  • The sheer numbers of students challenging themselves with college level coursework is impressive. We are proud that we offer multiple ways  (AP, IB, and CC+) for students to pursue college credit while still in high school - and gratified to see so many students gaining college credit while still in high school, which ultimately saves money for the student and their family

What does the “Prepared for Success” data mean? It means that our high quality professional educators are providing over 225 students with college level work each day at Springfield High School. Having that many hard working students is a great reflection of the work ethic that we attempt to promote in our students.

It is unfortunate that the overall final district grade fell from a “D” to an “F”. Due to a slight decrease in the overall performance index, which represents the number of students who passed the state tests at each performance level, from 67.8 to 65.1, the District missed receiving a grade of “D” by  0.8%, which led to the overall grade of “F”.

What is the bottom line for the state report card? Report cards can be useful and fair tools that help us measure the impact of our strategic priority efforts over time. However, for the report cards to be useful and most importantly fair, there are many “IFs” that one must consider. IF our student population remains fairly stable and without high rates of transiency, IF the testing instrument remains stable, IF the learning standards remain stable, IF the correlation between academic achievement and poverty is not a factor, then looking at the progress that our students make from year to year helps us know that our efforts are working, and more specifically, in what areas our efforts are working. However, it is imperative to understand the importance of the IFs found above. 

Unfortunately, when people look at a report card to judge a school, they often do not look deep enough to understand the tests, the cut scores, or the student populations. Thus, using just a report card grade to compare schools is very misleading, unfair, and riddled with bias.   

If the student populations are not similar - at least in the things that we know correlate with test scores, like percent of students in poverty, percent of students who are english language learners, percent of students with disabilities, and student mobility - then comparing report cards will always be extremely misleading and unfair. Ultimately, when comparing rural, suburban, and urban districts, one is comparing apples to oranges.  

This comparison unfairly paints a picture of a school or a teacher as bad, or failing, when in fact, that school or teacher may be excellent and may be doing a great job of helping students overcome tremendous challenges both inside and outside of school.

It is also important to know that the state report card is an arbitrary and flawed measure of how large groups of students do on a small subset of tests in a subset of subjects that we teach on a given point in time. We receive “good” grades if MOST (80 %) of our students score above a certain number, on a certain test, on a certain day. In any school, individual students' experiences are determined by much more than how 80% of their classmates score on a certain test. The Springfield City School District believes that parents should look closely at the needs and aspirations of their own child, and view a school's report card as just one of many, many factors to consider when evaluating a school.

We welcome high standards and accountability. Unfortunately, the state report card only tells a portion of the story. The state attempts to assign a letter grade to a set of complex metrics, many of which are so convoluted and technical that the state must release multi-page documents to attempt to explain them or for some, mathematical calculations that are proprietary and that they are not legally allowed to disclose. When the state has to release a 32-page document to the public to attempt to explain the report card, one must ponder the purpose of the instrument and the intent of our state legislature.

When parents consider the Springfield City School District, they must also understand that we serve a diverse student population and we do that well by offering a breadth of options and flexibility to personalize education that no one else in our area can match:

    • We offer computer science, game design, robotics, and web design; we offer biomedical sciences, aerospace engineering, music theory, music production, a full MJROTC program; we offer five world languages, including Mandarin and American Sign Language. We begin many of these programs in middle school and they are among our most popular classes at Springfield High. NONE of these programs are even considered on the report card, but they matter to students, parents, and employers.
    • We support the development of the whole child by offering music, fine arts, and physical education classes taught by highly qualified, professional, certified educators in all of our schools - this is not measured on the report card.
    • We offer Free Preschool for SCSD students to ensure an early start on their journey to success - this is not measured on the report card.
    • We build relationships. We support our students with counselors in each of the elementary schools, middle schools, and high school.
      • We offer college and career advising beginning in middle school.
      • We offer an extra level of student-focused advising through our Focus Periods in our high school. We have approximately 1,500 mission driven professionals who choose to work in a high-poverty, urban setting to meet the needs of ALL students. In addition, we have hundreds of dedicated community members who help support our mission of educating the boys and girls of this great community.
      • None of this is measured on a report card.
    • The success of our students after graduation - we have a tremendous record of sending our top graduates to top schools, and then on to grad schools, especially students from our International Baccalaureate and Project Lead the Way programs. We are the school of choice for many of our area's top students. This is not measured on the report card, because the report card does not differentiate between students who are college or career bound -they lump them all together.
    • Our students excel in extracurriculars - from Division I athletic scholarships, to Mock Trial championships, to international travel opportunities, and music solo and ensemble competitions - all experiences not measured on the report card, but they matter to students and families.

The Springfield City School District has a stakeholder-informed Strategic Plan that addresses four district priorities and includes clearly defined objectives and action steps to achieve them. Much work over the last four years has gone into laying the foundation for achieving these priorities. The plane is built and the systems are now in is time to fly the plane.

The Springfield City School District took a calculated risk over the past four years by completely rebuilding a broken system, challenging each other, and asking each other to do things that we have never done before. We have chosen to take a journey of best practices on the path of scientific and brain-based research and I know of no other district in Ohio that has tried to connect and build the social-emotional and academic systems from the ground up like Springfield. 

I am very proud of the efforts of our students, teachers, principals, and support staff. It takes a village to raise a child and I assure you that the Springfield City School District has one of the best “villages” in the state of Ohio.

Humbly yours,

Robert F. Hill, Ed.D.