Big 8 School Districts Discuss Student Achievement

Bill Rice- The gathering was one of what's hoped to be a series of meetings between the so-called "Big Eight" school districts - Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and Youngstown, and included the administrative heads and union presidents of all eight districts. The purpose was to discuss logistics and challenges of Senate Bill 1 - a measure passed this year that revamps how schools gage student achievement. Jim Colmuse, Vice President of the Implementation Group in Washington D.C. and the meeting's facilitator, says the bill is a major policy shift for education in Ohio.

Jim Colmuse- It develops new systems of accountability, rigorous standards for what kids should know and be able to do, and assessment systems, testing systems to measure learning. It's a major bill, one that the rest of the country is looking at.

BR- Senate Bill 1 was a result of widespread dissatisfaction with current accountability standards - primarily the Ohio Proficiency Tests, which many complained did not accurately assess student's progress. The measure replaces the 20 proficiency exams with 15 achievement tests, along with diagnostic tests designed to identify and assist struggling students early on. It also calls for schools to intervene when students fall behind. Rich Decolibus, President of the Cleveland Teachers' Union, says that's a big mandate for urban districts where students start out at a disadvantage.

Rich Decolibus- We're not asking for the sun, moon and stars but we need things like smaller classes, full summer school program, extended day program, saturday school, etc. and those things give students a little extra to help them get past the fact that they start farther behind.

BR- And that's going to cost money, something Cleveland Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is all too aware of. She, like many Ohio educators, feels if the state is going to require additional programs, the state should provide money to pay for them.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett- It's always an issue of dollars. Once again we are being held accountable and there will be issue of intervention programs that we will need for our young people, and the search for the dollars is going to be critical.

BR- Implementing additional programs without additional state money to pay for them is just one of several challenges surrounding Senate Bill 1 that are common to all the Big Eight Districts, and that those present believe they can collectively find solutions to. But perhaps even more significant, they say, is the fact that the meeting took place at all, with everyone invited showing up. Again, Barbara Byrd Bennett.

BBB- The fact that we not only convened, but plan to continue to meet and talk and to work through common issues and policy is historical.

BR- Cleveland Teachers' Union President Rich Decolibus agrees.

RD- It's been twenty years since such a meeting was held, and twenty years ago they held one meeting and never met again. This is huge, it's huge from the fact of the Big Eight and the fact that the foundations are involved in it.

BR- Those include the Cleveland, Gund, Jennings and Knowledge Works Foundations, which jointly organized and paid for the gathering. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.

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