PSSA test results good news for Pa.

Education secretary says 'We've made great strides'

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State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak had already spilled some of the good news in July: More than 70 percent of students statewide scored on grade level on state math and reading tests.

Yesterday he announced what that means for schools and districts: 95 percent of school districts and 78 percent of schools have met or made progress toward their targets for adequate yearly progress -- known as AYP -- required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

That makes this the best year ever for student, school and school district PSSA results in Pennsylvania.

"We've made great strides," Dr. Zahorchak said.

Dr. Zahorchak, who along with the governor is appealing to the Legislature to save state education funding in the still-unresolved state budget, said the progress is a direct result of investments the state has made in education.

He noted that the 50 districts that received the biggest dollar increases in state funding since 2002 had an average 41 percent increase in the proportion of students performing on grade level in grades 5, 8 and 11.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests were given in the spring in math and reading in grades 3-8 and 11.

The state figures that students who perform at the proficient or advanced levels are on grade level. Those who are at basic or below basic levels are not.

The results can be found on the Web at

PSSA science and writing results, which do not count toward AYP, also were released yesterday.

As was the case in 2008, the AYP performance targets called for at least 63 percent of the students to be proficient or advanced in reading and 56 percent in math.

Some schools and districts had to meet those targets not only for students overall but also for racial and economic subgroups if they had at least 40 students in the groups.

Schools and school districts could meet performance without meeting the targets outright through a growth model, safe harbor and confidence interval.

The growth model took into account whether students were on track to reach the targets even if they weren't proficient yet.

Of those making AYP, 331 schools and 26 districts used the growth model.

The growth model replaced the Pennsylvania Performance Index, which helped 130 schools make AYP in 2008.

Safe harbor gives credit to places where at least 10 percent fewer students are scoring below proficient.

In the most recent results, 530 schools and 129 districts made AYP via safe harbor.

AYP also can be met through a confidence interval that gives leeway for statistical error. No figures were available for how many met it that way.

All told, more school districts and schools made AYP in the spring than a year ago:

• 468 of 500 school districts this spring, 12 more than a year ago, along with six making progress both years.

• 2,291 of 3,115 schools this spring, 153 more than a year ago. In addition, 152 were making progress, an increase of 55.

Schools and school districts must meet their targets for two consecutive years to make AYP; those making progress have met them for just one year.

Schools and students also must have at least 95 percent of students taking the tests.

In addition, schools or districts must meet standards for attendance (90 percent or any improvement from the prior year) or graduation (80 percent or any improvement from the prior year).

Schools must meet their targets for the whole building. Districts are required to meet targets in at least one grade span: grades 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

Those who miss are placed into categories -- warning, school improvement and corrective action -- depending on how many years they have missed the mark.

Statewide, there are 11 districts and 169 schools in the most serious category, Corrective Action 2, two fewer districts and 17 more schools than a year ago.

In Allegheny County, three school districts missed making AYP: McKeesport Area, placed into Corrective Action 1, and Sto-Rox and Wilkinsburg, which each received a warning.

Three other school districts -- Duquesne, Pittsburgh Public Schools and Woodland Hills -- were deemed to be "making progress" because they met this year's targets after being in Corrective Action 2.

As for charter schools based in Allegheny County, the following did not make AYP because each missed one target: Career Connections Charter High School, City High Charter School, Pennsylvania Learners Online Regional Charter School and Spectrum Charter School. All missed making AYP a year ago except City High.

In addition, Propel Charter School-Homestead, was deemed to be making progress.

In Westmoreland County, the only district to miss AYP was Monessen City, which received a warning.

All public school districts in Armstrong, Beaver, Butler and Washington counties made AYP, although some had at least one school that did not.

In Allegheny County, about 20 school districts that made AYP or made progress had at least one school that did not meet its targets.

In Duquesne, which has only one school, the district made all of its targets, but the school, which serves grades K-8, did not because all tested grades were counted toward AYP, not just a span. The district sends its high school students to West Mifflin and East Allegheny.

Penn Hills made AYP as a district but missed the mark in four of its six schools: Forbes and Penn Hebron elementary schools and Linton Middle and the high school.

In July, Dr. Zahorchak announced that 73.4 percent of students statewide scored at grade level in math and 71.3 percent in reading.

Last month, the Center on Education Policy, an independent public school advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., singled out Pennsylvania for its improvement in test scores.

Education writer Eleanor Chute can be reached at or 412-263-1955.


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