Near the downtown area of Toledo, Ohio, in one of the poorest areas of the city, sits Pickett Academy.
It’s a pretty elementary school, new in 2012, for about 250 kids in grades kindergarten through 8th. It’s got all the latest technology and modern amenities, but it hides a not so pretty secret when you look at the performance.
Pickett is one of 14 schools in the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) district to earn an F on the individual building report card.
Overall, the district received a grade of D on this year’s report card. That’s better than their F last year and they’re no longer considered to be in “academic distress.”
Pickett’s grade is nothing new. The school has been graded an F since the 2014-2015 report card. For two years, 2012-2014, it earned a D.
Before that, when the report cards had different ratings, it never met the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement and was in Academic Emergency back to 2004. During those years, if it met a performance indicator, it was for attendance.
Except once it actually met two indicators. In the 2005-2006 report, it met the indicators for 4th grade writing – and attendance.
By any measure, Pickett has been a failing school since at least 2003.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, there were supposed to be consequences when schools did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards. Based on those rules, Pickett should have had new staffing after four years of failing to meet AYP. But it wasn’t until the school had eight years of failure, in 2008, that the principal and two-thirds of the teachers were replaced.
Even that didn’t help. Pickett continued under the Academic Emergency designation and failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress until the 2012-2013 school year when the state switched over to letter grades.
In fact, if Pickett had been held to the same standard as state charter schools, it would have closed quite some time ago. In the 2013-2014 school year, Ohio charter schools serving up to third grade would automatically be closed if, for two of the last three years, the school had been in Academic Emergency. Even though it served more grades, Pickett was in Academic Emergency for over a decade.
The grades don’t tell the whole story, though, says Jim Gault, TPS’s Executive Transformational Leader of Curriculum and Instruction.
“We’ve seen progress, but have we seen it to the extent we wanted,” he asks. “Of course not, but there have been pockets of growth that would have given (Pickett) better grades on the report card.”
Gault is referring to 2012-13 and 2013-14 when the school’s Progress grade (value-added score) was an A. This category looks at whether or not students got a year’s worth of growth in math and reading.
But in 2014-15, that grade went back to an F, only to move back up to an A in 2015-16 and then to a B in 2016-17.
The performance couldn’t be maintained and Pickett had a D for Progress in 2017-18 and an F this year.
Why the huge swing?
Gault says these particular grades are a direct result of federal grant funding that provided interventional assistance teachers (IATs) who worked primarily with English language skills and helped kids to move up the ladder of achievement. The funding also supported a Community Hub program that provided additional after school support as well as programs for parents. It even included a type of medical clinic.
But those extra services all ended when the federal funding ended, Gault says.
“The loss of federal funds corresponded with budget cuts across the district,” he explains. “So the federal funds couldn’t be replaced with local dollars, even though it was working. Pickett was one of the stars in showing growth under the “Value Added” rating. It was a model that was working.”
Under certain conditions, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) puts schools and districts on a watch list if they fail to show adequate achievement. Under Ohio’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan, schools that have large achievement gaps among student subgroups are identified as Focus schools. Pickett is on both lists.
According to the law, Pickett is required to conduct a needs assessment to identify areas of critical need. The school must then create and monitor “a three-year continuous improvement plans that includes evidence-based strategies.”
Gault says they’ve completed the assessment and are instituting several changes.
“We’re implementing standards based instruction and trauma informed care, which is part of the culture climate component,” he said. “We’re working around the Ruby Payne principles dealing with poverty and the issues associated with that. There’s a strong line between poverty and academic achievement and results. Pickett is at the lower end of both – very high poverty area and historically a school that has struggled academically.
“I don’t say this as an excuse,” Gault added. “It’s an obstacle we have to overcome, but it’s a reality.”
Pickett serves a difficult educational demographic: roughly 90 percent of the students are minorities, all get free or reduced lunches, and nearly all are considered economically disadvantaged by the school system. Census data shows that the median income in school’s area is around $16,000 per year and the majority of households are single parent, female led. There is also a high mobility rate among the students and too many of them don’t stay for a full year.
“The school started sliding last year,” Gault acknowledges. “We need to go back to the supports that made significant improvement from 2012.”
He said the state developed a school quality improvement grant and TPS applied for it, hoping to fund some of the same programs that were successful under the federal grants.
“Pickett was not funded,” he said, “even though other schools in the district were.”
He doesn’t know why, but the district has put IATs back in the school with local funds. Additionally, Gault wants to re-implement Success Maker, an online program where kids can get individualized lessons unique to them.
“At the end of the day, we know parents want the best education for their child,” Gault says. “And we need to work collectively to make sure they get the best results for their child.”
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