North Allegheny school directors decided in 2001 that they wanted the district to be more than a "good" school district. They wanted to be one of the top 100 districts in the country.
The changes they put forth to reach that goal, such as increasing the number of advanced placement courses and scheduling regular curriculum reviews, are paying off, board members said.
During the annual "report of student achievement" Feb. 27, Arleen Wheat, assistant superintendent for special education and pupil services, gave example after example of students outperforming their peers on a state and national level.
"What I am going to show you this evening is nothing short of amazing," she said.
Among the highlights:
• The average score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test is 1705, a district record that is "absolutely remarkable," Ms. Wheat said.
• On the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, students in every grade outperformed the state averages in both reading and math, and more than 90 percent of fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders scored advanced or proficient on the writing exam.
• Student scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills not only outperformed the national averages, but exceeded expectations. "What we predict our students to do, they are outperforming even those predictions," Ms. Wheat said.
• There were 208 advanced placement scholars last year.
"I am just so impressed with what we have been able to achieve," said board president Maureen Grosheider. "It is a testament to our teachers, paraprofessionals, parents and students."
Mrs. Grosheider noted, however, that the state and federal governments are "failing our students" with dwindling education funding and increased regulations, including requiring all students to take the PSSA and Keystone Exams, even those in special education.
A modified PSSA for special education students was eliminated. So, a fifth-grader who reads on a second- or third-grade level must take the fifth-grade PSSA reading exam.
The three schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress on the PSSAs last year -- McKnight Elementary, Marshall Middle and the senior high school -- were disqualified because of the scores of the special education subgroups.
"Special small groups can disqualify an entire school even if the overall school performance meets the standards," said superintendent Raymond Gualtieri.
Ms. Wheat noted that special education students are required to take the Keystone Exams in required courses such as algebra and biology -- even if they did not take the courses.
Passing the Keystone Exams is now a state requirement for graduation.
Another challenge with the Keystone Exams this year is that some students will be taking the exam years after taking the original course, said Brian Miller, assistant superintendent for K-12 education.
Algebra, for example, can be taken by students in sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth grades, but 11th-graders have to take the test this year. Likewise, most juniors took biology in either ninth or 10th grade, but must take the biology Keystone Exam this year, he said.
"We've got a whole bunch of changes going on in this particular point in time, and it could wreak havoc in what we think are our achievement levels," Mrs. Grosheider said.
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.