Moon OKs test score proposal

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Moon Area School District will spend up to $43,000 on an intervention plan to bring student test scores at Richard J. Hyde Elementary School up to par with those at other district elementary schools.

The school board approved the plan in a unanimous vote after Superintendent Curtis Baker and Caroline Johns, acting assistant superintendent, made a presentation at a special meeting Monday.

Results of benchmark tests from December show Hyde's third-graders scored an average 65 percent in math and 62 percent in reading. The school's fourth-graders scored 82 percent on average in both subjects. The third-grade math numbers were below the 78 to 81 percent range of average scores for the four other Moon Area elementary schools. In reading, the other schools' third-graders scored 74 to 91 percent on average.

Baker said Hyde's fourth-grade benchmark scores could mean those students will score lower on this year's Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test than they did as third-graders. The scores from last year were 85 percent in math and 88 percent in reading.

“If you look across the board, (Hyde) is almost universally below the other schools, and there's no need for that,” Baker said.

Baker said various issues may contribute to the lower Hyde scores: Of the four third- and fourth-grade teachers at Hyde, three are long-term substitutes, the principal has been on leave and the interim principal is serving her first building assignment. Also, discipline and attendance issues are detracting from education, and the school has the largest economically disadvantaged population of all the elementary schools.

Baker and Johns offered these steps, to begin this week in third and fourth grades and Jan. 16 in kindergarten through second grade:

• Hire consultant Deborah Fink-Sailsbery for up to $15,000 to mentor teachers. The retired principal of Hartwood Elementary School in the Fox Chapel School District would help to interpret Hyde data, visit classrooms and provide feedback to teachers, Johns said.

• Focus on literacy by retaining a librarian full-time at Hyde, for up to $11,000. The librarian currently also works at the Allard school.

• Retain a guidance counselor full-time at Hyde, for up to $10,000.

• Bring in a school social worker one extra day a week from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, at a cost of up to $7,000.

Johns is to work with the Hyde teaching staff, and administrators plan to work with after-school programs, such as those provided by the YMCA, to align their academic help with the district's curriculum.

The intervention plan would expand the school's breakfast program, and staff would encourage students to use the after-school program at Hyde.

Baker said other test scores also have dropped. “We are not universally pleased” with the other elementary schools' scores, he said.

For instance, Bon Meade fourth-graders scored 80 percent on average on the benchmark test, below their Hyde counterparts' average of 82 percent.

“We may learn some things … that can benefit the other schools,” school board member Gia Tatone said.

Board member Jerry Testa questioned whether the data were valid after only three months of instruction, and said he wants to make sure the extra help planned “is not just a Band-Aid to artificially inflate scores.” Baker said later the district's approach is to educate children, not teach to tests.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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