PSSA scores drop, discipline complaints planned for cheating

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State Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis today released statewide test scores showing a drop he attributed to the department's investigation of testing improprieties and the subsequent heightened security measures.

At a news conference today, Mr. Tomalis said that he anticipates that in the coming months well over 100 discipline complaints will be filed against public officials in schools pertaining to the cheating issue, a process he said has already begun.

He said the individuals will be notified first and, depending on the nature of the case, the case will be taken before the Professional Standards and Practices Commission, which can take action against an educator's professional certificate.

As a result of the lower math and reading scores and higher targets, only 60.9 percent of school districts -- compared to 94 percent last year -- made adequate yearly progress, known as AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind.

The math results show that the percent of students statewide scoring proficient of advanced fell from 77.1 percent to 75.7 percent.

In reading, the drop was from 73.5 percent to 71.9 percent, and in writing from 75 percent to 73.2 percent.

In science, there was an increase from 60.9 percent to 61.4 percent.

Reading and math scores are used for determining whether a school or district makes adequate yearly progress -- known as AYP -- under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This year, the targets called for 78 percent of students to be proficient or advanced in math and 81 percent in reading. However, schools and districts also could make AYP through various growth measures and statistical calculations.

In math, which is given in grades 3-8 and 11, there was a drop in every grade level -- some slight -- except seventh grade where the percentage grew from 78.6 percent in 2011 to 80 percent in 2012. There were also drops in every subgroup except Native American, which increased from 69.3 percent to 70.7 percent.

In reading, which is given in grades 3-8 and 11, there was a drop in every grade level except seventh grade, which there was a slight increase, from 76 percent to 76.1 percent. There also were drops in every subgroup.

The department investigated testing irregularities in 2009, 2010 and 2011, including excessive erasure rates. Initially, 48 local education agencies -- school districts or charter schools -- were asked to explain the irregularities.

Nine local education agencies -- including Pittsburgh Public Schools -- remain under investigation. Thirty were cleared. Six continue to be monitored. Three investigations were closed.

The state instituted additional monitoring and other requirements when the tests were given in spring 2012, including requiring those administering the test to sign a statement that they could face criminal penalties for test security violations.

The release noted the drops in student performance results on the 2012 were steeper in investigated schools.

It also noted that the rate at which student leave questions blank -- the omit rate -- increased in every grade and subject except for 11th-grade reading from 2011 to 2012.

The department attributed this to increased test security.

A technical advisory committee studied three possible reasons for test declines: funding, changes in the test content and tighter test security.

According to the department, it found "the only scientific cause for the drop in scores from 2011 to 2012 was the department's investigation of past testing improprieties which has led to heightened security test measures."

While four districts in Allegheny County did not make AYP in 2011, 17 missed the mark in 2012: Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, Brentwood, Clairton, Duquesne, Gateway, Keystone Oaks, McKeesport Area, North Hills, Northgate, Penn Hills, Pittsburgh, Shaler Area, Steel Valley, Sto-Rox, West Mifflin Area and Wilkinsburg. One district -- Woodland Hills -- which missed AYP in 2011, met its targets this time.

education - breaking

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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