As the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for -- you just might get it. Last month several members of the Penn Hills school board expressed their frustration at not having been given the preliminary results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment testing conducted in Penn Hills last spring. On Monday night, Renel Williams, director of teaching, learning and assessment, delivered the data.
In a presentation to the school board, Ms. Williams showed slide after slide of test results demonstrating that Penn Hills students are not hitting the state's educational proficiency targets. In some cases, the gaps are quite large. For example, the overall PSSA reading score for all fifth-grade students is 36 out of 100 while the state target score is 91. Third- and fourth-grade readers scored 58 and 61 respectively, and no grade level scored higher in reading than the fourth grade score of 61. While overall math scores were generally higher than reading scores, significant gaps still exist. Scores also vary from building to building and within demographic subgroups. Across the board, scores for black students were lower than scores for white students and special needs students were the lowest-scoring demographic.
Ms. Williams also showed the district's performance as compared to all of the other school districts in the state. In many cases, the performance of Penn Hills students reflects the overall performance of students in other Pennsylvania school districts, but Penn Hills also ranks lower than the state average in the reading and math test categories at all grade levels in all years since 2006.
Ms. Williams also explained that the state will assess the district's effort to improve over time using a new method called the Annual Measurable Objective. The district's baseline will be set by scores from PSSA and Keystone testing during the 2012-13 school year. In the case of fifth-grade reading, for example, the district achieved a proficiency score 36 out of 100 points. The achievement gap is the difference between the actual score and the maximum or 64 points. Penn Hills will be required to reduce that achievement gap by 50 percent or by 32 points in six years time. That averages out to an AMO improvement goal of 5.3 points per year. A school district's progress will be cumulative, meaning that although some years may be better than others, the total achievement gap must be closed in six years.
According to superintendent Thomas Washington, the district is aware of the deficiencies identified in the test results and is addressing them by focusing on early reading and school readiness programs.
"First of all, the data presented last night is preliminary. But we recognize that there are opportunities that need to be addressed in student performance," Mr. Washington said. "And if I could put my hand on what causes these gaps, I could fix it. We just need to have kids ready for school earlier and we need to identify their learning deficiencies earlier. A child who struggles to read in third grade will struggle to read after third grade."
As the presentation continued, the board members who were vocal last month were silent this month. There were no comments or questions from the board.
Tim Means, freelance writer: email@example.com