The annual release of district report cards by the Ohio Department of Education marks the state's assessment of how well individual schools and districts are performing based on a complicated system of scoring.

The 2016-2017 report card data was released on Thursday.

Having been a source of controversy over the years concerning how districts are evaluated, the state report card has undergone changes over the years. But it continues to present challenges, according to area educators, in judging a district’s progress from year to year or comparing achievement among districts.

In releasing this year’s state report card, Paolo DeMaria, the state superintendent of public instruction, said about progress by the state as a whole: "We’re seeing increases across all subjects" and clarified district report cards "aren’t the only gauge of a school’s or district’s achievement."

A searchable database for complete ratings of all Ohio schools, including area schools, is available at www.the-daily-record.com and www.times-gazette.com.

To help better understand what these scores mean, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. What does the district report card measure?

» Achievement — calculates number of students who passed the state standardized tests and how well they performed on them.

» Gap closing — represents how schools are doing in making sure all students, no matter their income level, race, ethnicity or disability, are reaching the performance standards established by the state in English language arts, math and graduation rate.

» Progress — determines whether all students are making a year's worth of academic growth each school year

» Graduation rate — gives the percent of students who are successfully finishing high school with a diploma in four or five years

» Kindergarten through third-grade literacy — marks the success of a district in getting all students to the set level of reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

» Prepared for success — shows how well students are prepared to succeed in college or the work force when they graduate

Within each of the components are one or more categories of measurement, each of which is graded A-F. Districts and each school within the district receives up to a total of 10 grades.

However, until 2018, according to the Ohio Department of Education, there is no overall letter grade for each school and district.

2. Are there any negative consequences to districts for not meeting certain state standards?

No, but.... The 2016-17 school year will be the last year for "safe harbor" provisions put into place by the ODE "to give students and schools time to adjust to the new standards and tests." Safe harbor for school districts, according to the ODE, gives them immunity from certain programs or interventions, such as students attending schools consistently performing poorly becoming eligible for vouchers for tuition at private schools.

3. Are there any changes on the state report card this year?

There are no new measures on the 2016-2017 report cards.

4. What do they really mean, and is one category more significant than any other?

Jon Ritchie, superintendent of the Southeast, Rittman and Orrville districts, and Tri-County Educational Service Center, explained how he views the report cards.

In his opinion, the most critical portion of the report cards is the value-added measure, which is part of the Progress component. Value-added demonstrates whether students are making a year’s worth of progress during the school year. If they are, "The performance measures will take care of themselves."

"The value-added is the one you want to focus on," he said.

Ritchie also pointed out that this year’s achievement measures cannot be accurately compared with last year’s because the comparison is "apples to oranges."

"The tests are similar," he said, but the "cut scores" needing to be reached are raised.

Additionally, "They’re not even testing all the same content areas. You have to keep that in perspective."