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State releases low-achieving schools list

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

McKeesport's Founders Hall Middle School made the list of low-achieving schools issued on Friday by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

On the other hand, East Allegheny and Woodland Hills high schools came off the first list, issued last summer, as did Edgewood Elementary School in Woodland Hills.

The newest list of the lowest 15 percent on the 2012-13 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests include:

• All McKeesport Area schools except White Oak Elementary.

• All Clairton City students.

• All Duquesne Education Center elementary students.

• Steel Valley Senior High and Barrett Elementary schools. Park Elementary School did not make the list.

• Woodland Hills Junior High and Dickson, Fairless and Wilkins elementary schools.

“I was very disappointed when the scores came in,” Founders Hall principal Karen Chapman said. “The majority of the students do take this test very seriously. We gave them every opportunity and provided as much help and support as we possibly could.”

Founders Hall received a warning about its PSSA scores in 2003, then made Adequate Yearly Progress in 2004. It received warnings in 2005 and 2006, was placed in the School Improvement 1 category in 2007 and 2008 slipped to School Improvement 2 in 2009, was reported to be making progress in 2010, then slipped into Corrective Action 1 in 2011 and Corrective Action 2 in 2012.

“We met as an entire staff when school began and everybody mapped out different strategies and the building as a whole came out with a plan,” Chapman said.

The plan involves making the work fun, with teachers emphasizing skills with which students need help.

“Every Thursday morning we have 35 minutes of dedicated time that is set aside so that the entire building at the same time is working on reading or math,” she went on. “We call it our WIN session, or ‘What's Important Now.' For 35 minutes the students work on reading two times a month and then math skills two times a month.”

Students who live within the boundaries of the 15 percent of Pennsylvania schools deemed “low-achieving” may qualify for Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit grants.

Businesses can get tax credits for donations toward helping low- and moderate-income students go to participating public or nonpublic schools.

Career and technology centers and charter schools are not on the list. In 71 districts out of 500 across the state, 406 buildings are included, with more than 240,000 students.

Low-achieving schools are found in 36 of the state's 67 counties, including schools in Penn Hills, Pittsburgh, Sto-Rox and Wilkinsburg in Allegheny County and Jeannette and Monessen districts in Westmoreland.

In areas served by those 406 schools, students in households earning up to $75,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent member, are eligible.

They could receive awards of up to $8,500 for a regular school or $15,000 to pursue special education.

Within 15 days, affected school districts are required to notify parents and post details of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program on their websites.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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