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Penncrest 1 of 3 Delco High Schools to Make PSSA Grade

Penncrest was among three out of 15 high schools in Delaware County to hit the adequate yearly progress targets for 2011-12 but RTM superintendent agrees with failing districts that system is flawed.

Penncrest High School, along with the but many other Delaware County school districts and high schools did not.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 12 out of the 15 high schools in Delaware County had missed the mark on their AYP targets. The only high schools in the county to meet their targets were Penncrest, Radnor, and Wallingford-Swarthmore.

Across the commonwealth, fewer and fewer schools are meeting the AYP targets. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the "new benchmark shows the percentage of students statewide scoring proficient or advanced declined from 77.1 percent in 2011 to 75.7 percent in 2012 in math. In reading, the decline was from 73.5 percent to 71.9 percent."

In 2010-11, 72 percent of Pennsylvania schools made AYP while in 2011-12, the percentage dropped significantly to 49 percent, according to the Department of Education. And the number of schools on the warning list–including Marple Newtown High School–more than doubled from 13 percent in 2010-11 to 31 percent in 2011-12.

Although Rose Tree Media made AYP in 2011-12, RTM Superintendent James Wigo said a time will come within the next two or three years, when the vast majority of school districts in the Commonwealth will be failing school districts.

"And Rose Tree Media will be one of them. Based on the current evaluation system, we will be a failing school district, unless there is some concession made to No Child Left Behind," Wigo said. "It is a political football, that nobody wants to touch. ...The legislature has done what (school districts) would be held in malfeasance for doing, and that is continuing a failing program."

Why Penncrest Made the Grade in 2011-12

In 2010-11, Penncrest missed the mark in the academic performance target and failed to make AYP.

The 2011-12 academic performances goals for reading were 81 percent and 78 percent for math. Penncrest students overall hit 85.3 precent in reading and 76.5 percent for math, which is still considered to be meeting the goal, according to the Department of Education. Despite missing the math target by 1.5 percent, a "confidence interval" is taken into account, "a sampling error or variation across years by promoting schools or subgroups that come very close to achieving their performance goals, thus meeting their specific goal," according to the Department of Education.

Wigo said after missing the mark in 2010-11, the district put a school improvement process together immediately.

Through data analysis and grant money the district was able to provide extra attention to those students who were identified as needing more one-on-one or smaller group instruction.

"There were a number of initiatives that kind of kicked in all at the same time," Wigo said. "Each one of our schools has a process that they have to go through to improve instruction and improve the student performance."

State's AYP Benchmarks Unfair

Marple Newtown Superintendent of Schools Merle Horowitz shared her disappointment on not making AYP this year, but relayed her frustrations on the state's criteria to determine a school's performance through standardized testing especially with the hard-reaching and ever illusive target goals. It's simply just "not fair," according to Horowitz.

"We're not happy," shared Horowitz over the phone about not making AYP this year, considering the high school made it last year. "It's a big issue. "

The 2012-13 target goals are 91 percent of students advanced or proficient in reading and 89 percent of students advanced or proficient in math. And by 2014, according to the No Child Left Behind Act, all schools must be 100 percent advanced or proficient in both reading and math. 

Wigo said there are a number of aspects that aren't fair within the system.

"There's always a factor or two that could keep us from 100 percent," Wigo said.

For example, RTM has a number of students who are new to the district each year, coming from other districts, charter schools or home schooling, and rather than PSSA grading the student from where they start in the district and measuring their improvements from that point forward, he said, the system measures the students based on each student "answering each test question correctly."

"If last year a student got two questions right, and this year he get 32 questions right, isn't that pretty good growth," Wigo said. "The growth model that they use really doesn't help us at all in terms of our kids moving forward in AYP."

"Every year the bar jumps to another 10 points," said Horowitz. "And it's getting harder and harder every year."

Although Horowitz takes pride in the diversity within the MN district, the diversity can also create a few more challenges and criteria to meet.

Subgroups Can Affect Performance

For a school to meet AYP, they must meet all of these three targets: graduation rate/attendance, performance, and participation. However, the number of goals and targets used for AYP can vary by school district.

According to the Department of Education, this is because the measures associated with subgroups (gender, race, special needs students, or English Language Learners) that have fewer than 40 students in the school do not apply. However, schools with fewer than 40 students are still accountable and are evaluated in the All Students Group.

For instance, in Marple Newtown High School, there are more than 40 IEP students, or students with special needs, many of whom attend schools outside the district. However, all of the students are still required to take the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) and their scores are reflected and weighted on the public school. 

According to Horowitz, Paxon Hollow Middle School had nearly 900 students and 21 subgroups taking the PSSA for 2011-12 and they still made AYP. However, Marple Newtown High School's subgroup for IEP students did not make two out of the 15 AYP targets which meant that the high school and district did not make AYP.

Subgroups Can Affect Graduation Rate

According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), this was the first year in which the Department of Education has calculated graduation rates for subgroups in addition to rates for the school and district. However, under federal law, special education students are allowed to attend public schools until age 21 to ensure they have had an appropriate education.

Marple Newtown High School had approximately 15 students who didn't graduate on time and chose to continue their education. "Unfortunately, that's held against us," states Horowitz. 

"The combined impact of subgroup performance, new graduation rate formulas and leaps in testing performance targets has meant that some schools that historically have made AYP are now falling short of the increased goals further illustrating the fact that NCLB is in desperate need of revision," states the PSBA

Delaware County High Schools Who Didn't Make AYP For 2011-12:

  • Marple Newtown High School – Warning
  • Springfield High School – Warning
  • Haverford High School – School Improvement
  • Garnet Valley – Warning
  • Penn Delco – Warning
  • Chichester – School Improvement
  • Upper Darby – Corrective Action
  • Interboro – Corrective Action
  • Southeast Delco – Corrective Action
  • Chester Upland – Corrective Action
  • William Penn – Corrective Action
  • Ridley – Corrective Action

Delaware County School Districts that made AYP for 2011-12:

  • Garnet Valley School District
  • Haverford Township School District
  • Interboro School District
  • Penn-Delco School District
  • Radnor School District
  • Wallingford-Swarthmore School District

Delaware County School Districts that failed to meet AYP for 2011-12:

  • Chichester School District 
  • Marple Newtown School District
  • Ridley School District
  • Southeast Delco School District
  • Springfield School District
  • William Penn School District
  • Upper Darby School District
  • Chester-Upland

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