The following is a press release from the West Chester Area School District.
Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) data for the West Chester Area School District has been released and reveals excellent overall scholastic achievement on the part of district students. In the four test areas of reading, writing, science and math, the district scored in the top 10% compared to the other 499 school districts across the state. The district’s entire 5th grade class provides just one example of outstanding academic achievement, ranking 3rd in the entire state in reading, scoring in the top 1% of PSSA test-takers at that grade level.
Top 4% (19th out of 499)
Top 5% (26th out of 499)
Top 9% (45th out of 499)
Top 10% (51st out of 499)
WCASD students scoring in the highest “advanced” category on PSSA exams also achieved impressive results in a statewide comparison.
Top 4% (21st out of 499)
Top 6% (29th out of 499)
Top 10% (48th out of 499)
Overall scores for the WCASD have increased at least five percentage points in every tested category since 2008. In 2011-12, scores for reading jumped to 90% of students testing proficient or advanced, up from 85% in 2008. Math scores increased from 84% to 89%, and science scores are up 5% from 72% to 77%. In writing, 90% achieved the proficient or advanced target in 2011-12, compared to 83% scoring at that level in 2008.
“Our PSSA scores are very strong and reflect the great achievement of our students and the hard work of our teachers,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon. “But it is widely recognized that the current testing system has many flaws, and I don’t believe the scores themselves tell the entire story of how our district is doing as a whole. I don’t think they fairly measure or do justice to our students, or the quality of learning that is taking place in our schools.”
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determines whether a school is making sufficient annual progress towards the goal of 100% proficiency by the year 2014. AYP measures student results for three indicators: Attendance (for elementary and middle schools) or Graduation Rate (for high schools); Academic Performance; and Test Participation. Academic Performance is also broken down by sub-groups of students. For example, reading and math tests are given in grades 3 to 8, and in grade 11. Scores are reported by different sub-groups such as economically disadvantaged, African American, Hispanic/Latino and Special Education students. Each school is required to demonstrate that 78% of its students are proficient or advanced in math and 81% are proficient or advanced in reading.
Just one specific AYP component was not fully achieved, as the district reached the proficient and advanced targets in all categories except a sub-group in graduation rates. Because a total of six (6) Special Education students and eight (8) Hispanic/Latino students did not graduate at the same time as their four-year classmates as required by the statute, the District received an AYP warning. It is important to note that some Special Education students have Individual Education Plans (IEP) calling for a fifth year of high school, making it impossible for the District to maintain the four-year graduation track required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law for which the PSSA tests are administered, each school has to be perfect in meeting up to 29 factors or sub-groups of data in order to make AYP. If a single sub-group with a relatively small number of students doesn’t hit a target, the school or district will receive a warning notice.
In the case of the WCASD, increases were achieved in all areas tested from the previous year: reading, writing, science, and math. AYP was achieved in all sub-groups of students: Economically Disadvantaged, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Special Education, and Non-English Speaking students. Another category affecting AYP is graduation rates, for which all sub-groups must also meet certain targets. A graduation rate is determined by the number of students in that class who graduate in four years. This does not take into consideration the fact that some students, particularly Special Needs students as noted earlier, may need and/or be required to fulfill an additional year or a summer of classes to complete work and graduate.
The district received a warning because of its sub-group graduation rate of Special Education students which was targeted at 85%. The district rate was 79%, meaning just six additional students in this sub-group would have had to graduate in four years to avoid the AYP warning. Despite the fact that many of these students were scheduled to complete their work in summer school or the fifth year of high school, the school district was still given a warning.
Similarly, while 13 of the 16 district schools met all criteria to achieve AYP across the board, three individual district schools did not. East High School, G.A. Stetson Middle School, and E.N. Peirce Middle School, all received AYP warnings.
In the case of the 926-student G. A. Stetson Middle School, the AYP warning would have been averted by having just three additional students in a sub-group of Economically-Disadvantaged children score proficient in math. In the case of the 858-student E. N. Peirce Middle School, the AYP warning would have been averted by having just three more students in a subset of Special Education children achieve a proficient in reading.
The 1,326-student East High School missed the math and reading AYP target, as 76% of students scored proficient or advanced with a target of 81% for reading, while 68% achieved a proficient or advanced level in math with a state target of 78%. The AYP warning would have been averted with just 13 more students scoring proficient in math and just 16 more students proficient in reading.
Dr. Scanlon also noted that, “With WCASD students achieving proficient and advanced rankings at increased levels over last year in almost every case, the 2011-12 PSSA results reflect the extraordinary impact small sub-groups of students in unique situations, such as Special Education and Economic Disadvantage, has on the measurement of Adequate Yearly Progress.”
In addition, the federal NCLB law mandates that all students achieve proficient or advanced levels for math and reading in all schools by 2014. The Obama administration has allowed states to request waivers from the mandates in exchange for adopting new guidelines on teacher accountability. So far 44 states have applied, and 37 have been granted a waiver from the statute. Pennsylvania has not submitted a waiver application.
The standardized testing landscape continues to change. For the 2012-2013 school year, new “Keystone Exams” - including an element for which passage is required in order for a student to graduate from high school - will replace PSSA testing for the secondary education level in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Scanlon concluded, “As always, our focus will remain on high standards, a rigorous curriculum, and challenging each student to meet increasingly high levels of achievement.”