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On average, Hamilton County school districts met state expectations last year. But there are big gaps

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Public schools in Hamilton County are collectively meeting state standards, according to report cards from the Ohio Department of Education released last week. But there are some big differences among the county’s 22 districts.

ODE gave districts star ratings of one through five instead of letter grades in five categories and didn’t give districts an overall score this year.

A WVXU analysis of those report cards shows that public school districts in Hamilton County, on average, met or exceeded state performance expectations in most categories.

Those districts scored an average of 3.25 stars on achievement on state tests; 3 stars on academic improvement; 3.45 stars on graduation rates; and 3.86 stars on what is known as gap-closing — or how well a district bridges educational disparities. In early literacy — the final of the five state categories — Hamilton County schools fell slightly short of state expectations, on average scoring 2.86 stars.

But performance varied greatly from district to district. Some schools received one-star ratings in many or all categories, while other, sometimes neighboring districts received straight five-star ratings.

University of Cincinnati Professor of Education Dr. Sarah Stitzlein says the reasons for that are complex.

“The things that are being measured on the report card often trickle down from what children are receiving at home," she says. "So it’s not really a fair and just comparison just because schools are next door to each other to be comparing them. We need to ask who is in those schools — are they not just children who differ because of things like economics, but things like limited English proficiency; are these students who are new to learning the language and have other kinds of struggles they’re facing that other students may not be?"

One example lies just north of Cincinnati, where Wyoming City Schools and Lockland City Schools sit side by side.

Wyoming's district scored five stars in four state categories and four stars in the remaining category. Lockland, meanwhile, scored one star in four categories and two in the remaining category.

Much of the reason for that is socio-economic, Stitzlein says. Wyoming's family income is five times that of Lockland's, which has suffered greatly from deindustrialization in the preceding decades.

"When you look at Lockland and Wyoming, even though they butt right up against each other, you see major differences in the students who are served," she says. "In Lockland, for example, nearly all of the students are economically disadvantaged, compared to seven percent of Wyoming's population."

Stitzlein adds that the state’s report cards are just one snapshot of the quality of local schools. They don’t capture things like social services a district might provide, all available extracurricular activities and other ways a school serves its community.

You can find all Ohio districts' report cards on ODE's website.