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Ligonier Valley wary as state revises marks for cyber schools

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 10:00 p.m.
Achievement House Cyber Charter School teachers Lindsay Potts (left) and Eric Reighard film morning announcements at the school in New Florence. The announcements are posted to the school's youtube account. Guy Wathen | Trib total Media photo taken by guy wathen on February 4, 2013
Achievement House Cyber Charter School teacher Amanda Reighard runs an online 8th grade English class at the school in New Florence. Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media

Recalculated figures used to determine Adequate Yearly Progress for charter schools in Pennsylvania show that less than 30 percent of charter schools met that standard. No cyber schools met the requirement.

The recalculations were ordered by the U.S. Department of Education because the state education department last fall used a less stringent standard for charter schools than that used for traditional public schools.

Under either standard, none of the seven charter or cyber schools attended by students living within Ligonier Valley School District made adequate progress last year, according to state statistics.

Ligonier Valley School District schools have made adequate yearly progress for the last four years.

“This is a travesty, especially considering the tremendous financial burden placed on school districts, to say nothing of the burden that will perpetually be placed on taxpayers due to cyber charter students' inability to secure decent jobs and be contributing members of society,” Ligonier school board member Irma Hutchinson said.

Ligonier officials have publicly criticized cyber charter schools since an exodus of more than 100 students when the school board closed Laurel Valley Middle/High School in 2010.

“I think there's a little too much reliance on (yearly progress) as the only measure of a quality school,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state education department. “It's only one measure of a quality education. It would be nice if parents, community members and the media would look at other measures like graduation rate, attendance rate and PVAAS.”

The Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System is standardized testing data that looks at progress of individual students as they move between grades.

Achievement House Cyber Charter School officials said Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests are skewed against cyber schools.

“We're getting kids that are already in failing situations. In our case, we often have seven, eight, nine, 10 years of undoing” a lack of progress in traditional schools, Achievement House spokeswoman Lynn Rodden said. “We see, across the board, the longer students stay in cyber school, the better they do. But we're being judged on something that was never fair.”

Rodden said cyber school advocates continually ask legislators to come up with a better way to assess the quality of education in cyber and charter schools, such as placing a heavier weight on value-added assessments.

“We know the only way to assess is by testing students, but we can do a better job and look at students individually, especially if they're coming to our school several grades behind,” she said.

Rodden said the school has made enormous strides and officials hope to improve next year's assessment on yearly progress.

“I hate to say we're looking forward to the PSSAs. The kids probably aren't, but we are because we think we're headed in the right direction,” she said.

Rodden said the school has improved technology and is assessing students in the beginning and middle of the school years.

“These benchmark tests allow us to make curriculum adjustments where we need to improve,” Rodden said.

The revised calculations for charter schools will be posted by the end of February on the state education department's website, along with the earlier assessment numbers, Eller said.

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or jphraner@tribweb.com.

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