PSSA results come up short in Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park

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Two school districts in the southern suburbs are pointing to positives after disappointing state test score results: Mt. Lebanon for its high school, which failed to make adequate yearly progress, and Bethel Park for the district as a whole, which missed the mark on graduation rates and high school math scores.

The preliminary PSSA results first released to school districts this summer show Mt. Lebanon met graduation and reading targets districtwide. But it fell short in math at the high school because of low scores among its special education students.

The official results will be released at the end of September.

Of the 44 special education students in 11th grade last year, 19 did not make adequate progress in math; as a group, their proficiency rate in that subject was 56.8 percent.

Superintendent Tim Steinhauer noted that because 40 or more students comprise this "subgroup" their scores are considered separately. If there were only 39 students in this group, he said, their results would be folded in with the rest of the students.

The high school recorded 92.8 percent proficiency overall in reading and 88.1 percent in math--above the state targets of 81 and 78, respectively. The nine other schools in the district made adequate progress.

School officials were clearly upset by the "warning" label now attached to the high school in a district that remains among the top 5 percent in achievement in the state.

The designation does not include penalties but means the school fell short of adequate progress targets and has another year to achieve them. No Child Left Behind legislation calls for state government oversight and possible control of districts that don't reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

At the Monday night school board discussion meeting -- where Ron Davis, secondary education assistant superintendent, explained the preliminary results -- school board President Josephine Posti had harsh words for the 2002 No Child law.

She also called the warning label ridiculous and punitive. "That does not serve our students," she said.

In Bethel Park, Janet O'Rourke, director of secondary education, said the school district did not make adequate progress because it did not hit graduation targets for its special education subgroup and because overall math scores in 11th grade did not hit the state targets. She said about 71 percent of 11th grade students scored proficient or above in math, below the state target of 78 percent.

The problem with the special education graduation rates stems from the way the state computes graduate rates, Ms. O'Rourke said. The graduation rates count students who start in ninth grade and graduate within four years. However, by law, special education students are permitted to remain in public school until age 21.

The special education students in the Bethel Park district who did not graduate in four years were those who remained in the program for the additional education permitted to them, Ms. O'Rourke said. That includes students who continued on for vocational training.

"It's discouraging to say the least. Philosophically we are doing what is right by the kids. We pride ourselves in being able to meet the needs of students," Ms. O'Rourke said.

In Pennsylvania, education administrators implemented a stair-stepping process to achieve the No Child objective. But readying every child for math and reading proficiency by 2014 is still widely considered too lofty a goal.

Adding to the pressure is a state mandate that next year will measure student success based on Keystone exam scores, which test in multiple subjects, instead of the current Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in math and reading.

education - neigh_south

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944. Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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