2017-11-11 / Front Page

Local school ratings: proceed with caution

Report cards are in for thousands of public, charter and cyber schools in Pennsylvania.

Interpreting the latest School Performance Profiles (SPP) is no easy task. It’s easy to spin the numbers to accentuate the positive or diminish the negative.

Yet, the raw numbers are important. SPP scores are used as part of the new teacher evaluation system, which affects teachers and principals.

The state issued assessments on a scale of 0 to 100. Among local ratings were: Austin, 65.5; Coudersport, 58.7; Galeton, 64.6; and Cameron County, 67.2. A score of 70 is considered proficient.

However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

For example, Cameron County School District increased its overall score by five points over last year. The district showed improvement in graduation rate and SAT/ ACT college readiness, while posting declines in math, science and literature.

High school students tallied 39 in math, 57.7 in reading, and 58.3 in science. Elementary school results were 48.3 for math, 77.9 for literature, and 92.7 for science.

In Austin, students in grades 7-12 received a 42.1 in math, 56.4 in literature and 50 in science. Elementary students scored 58.6 for math, 72.2 for reading and 74.1 for science.

Coudersport High School received a 37.6 math score, 52.6 in literature and 64.1 in science. Elementary scores came in at 46.2 for math, 63.2 for literature and 81.5 for science. Meanwhile, students in Galeton recorded scores of 44.4 in math, 58.3 for literature and 71.4 in science. Results for the district were not separated between high school and elementary students.

One of the most common criticisms is the narrow focus of the SPP process and the alphabet soup of standardized testing.

“They are just small pieces of a much larger puzzle -- that being all of the factors that go into SPP, PSSA scores, Keystone scores, PASA scores and Pa. Value-Added System,” said Cameron County Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe. “In some cases, we are not comparing apples to apples.”

Superintendents Jackie Canter of Coudersport and Jerry Sasala of Austin concurred.

“Each year a different cohort of students are tested as they advance a grade, so this factor in and of itself is reason for the fluctuation in assessment results,” Canter explained. “The overall SPP reflects data reported in many different categories -- performance on PSSAs, SATs and Industry-Based, participation in the PSAT and advanced-level courses, student growth, attendance, and graduation, among others.”

“Our teachers have been adjusting on their own each year because the test has changed so often,” Sasala said. “They deserve a lot of credit for identifying areas that needed attention and making those improvements.”

All three administrators agree that the significance of the results on standardized tests can be overstated. “There’s too much emphasis on standardized testing in general,” Sasala said. “The changes in testing methods and curriculum have been difficult, but our teachers take it seriously, so we’ve been able to stay ahead of the curve.”

Canter cautioned against reading too much into a single year’s numbers. “Too much weight is placed on standardized testing, but this is the federal and state method that was developed for comparison and accountability purposes,” she pointed out. “As long as performance results are kept in a true perspective at the local level, they should be viewed as a gauge for monitoring current performance and targeting areas of improvement. I’m looking forward to becoming less reliant on standardized test scores and providing for a more holistic view of student success.”

As Pennsylvania transitions to the use of the Future-Ready Pa Index in the 2018-19 school year, SPP scores will not be used beyond requirements under Act 82 for educator evaluation.

The index will feature a broader range of indicators, such as English language acquisition, career readiness, access to advanced coursework, and chronic absenteeism.

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