It wouldn't be overstating things to call the new academic goals just recently approved by the Cleveland school board audacious. In only five short years, Cleveland hopes to have schools achieving state test scores that beat every other large urban school district in Ohio.
Agreeing on the new set of goals is only the first step towards creating a set of benchmarks that can be used to measure the city's academic improvement. The creation of such standards was a condition set out by the state legislature when it altered the law at the request of the city mayor Frank Jackson. The new rules are now on the books, but so is the requirement that the city make annual reports in its progress and show substantial improvement in student outcomes by 2017.
"We need to move this district forward," said Eric Gordon, the district's chief executive officer. "We're trying to be aggressive. Are we being aggressive enough? We're trying to be realistic. Are we being realistic enough? We need to find that balance in the middle."
The most ambitious set of goals have to do with improving reading proficiency among Cleveland students. The district hopes to have 75% of its 4th, 6th and 8th graders meeting the reading standards set out by the state. This would mean that the district hopes to put itself in a position to shortly meet 3 performance indicators mandated by the state, none of which were met the previous academic year.
Although board members call for improvement in math performance in all grades, they went short of setting goals to meet the 75% state proficiency standard. Meanwhile, the schools will be working to improve the state assessment exams in all subjects every year between now and 2017.
In addition to setting out the metrics it hopes to meet in mathematics and literacy, the district also hopes to raise its high school graduation rate from 56% to 71% between now and then. Meanwhile, it'll also be working to raise its overall performance score — thus hoping to bump up the district's ranking from second-to-last as it earned last year.
The "performance index" goal score of 89.9 – compared to last year's 75.4 – would have put the district just ahead of the Bedford schools and well ahead of districts like Euclid and Maple Heights. That score would have also surpassed other urban districts like Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo.
Gordon said that trying to be better than those other districts is a reasonable goal.