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Gateway High School, district fails to make AYP benchmarks

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 4:00 p.m.

Gateway High School again failed to meet benchmarks established by the state Department of Education and has become one of 55 schools in Pennsylvania to require a second consecutive year of corrective measures.

As a result, Gateway officials are required to submit a plan to the state that outlines how they will improve student performance.

For the assessment test that high school juniors and students in grades three through eight took in spring, the state required at least 81 percent of students of a school to test at “proficient” or “advanced” status in reading and at least 78 percent of students to be at least “proficient” in math.

The high school came up short in both subjects, with only 76.3 percent of the overall student body testing “proficient” or better in reading and 63.1 percent doing so in math.

The state evaluates the performance of not only the entire student body but of categories of students, as well.

Five such subgroups — black students, multiracial students, economically disadvantaged students, special-education students and English learning students — failed to meet standards at the high school.

This is the second consecutive year the high school has failed to meet state standards or make adequate yearly progress.

Cleveland Steward Elementary and Gateway Middle School also failed to meet state standards. Both met last year's state benchmarks.

CSE Principal Linda Echard said many students were adjusting to new teachers and classmates, after transferring from the former Pitcairn Elementary and other schools.

“The makeup of our elementary schools in 2011-12 was not the same as the previous years,” Echard said.

After-school tutoring was incorporated at each of the Gateway Elementary Schools this year and practice tests are administered throughout the year. Administrators study the data to focus on the specific academic needs of each student, Echard said.

Each year the benchmarks that students have to meet have gone up, and in 2014-15, the state Department of Education will expect 100 percent of students in every Pennsylvania School to score at least “proficient.”

That goal is “impossible in any situation,” said Gateway School Director Skip Drumheller.

The state also requires that all students achieve the same standards, including those with special needs. Echard said she agrees with a level playing field.

“We need to expose everyone to the curriculum, and it's a good thing to be able to see where all of our students are in relationship to the common core standards,” Echard said.

“It's not a bad thing for us to be able to get a good picture of each and every one of our students.”

Special-needs students at some of the county's highest-achieving districts, such as Upper St. Clair, Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon, failed to meet standards as a whole this year.

In addition to the individual schools, the Gateway School District as a whole failed to meet the state's annual yearly progress benchmarks.

It's the first time since 2005 that the district did not make annual yearly progress.

At least twice as many districts in Allegheny County failed to make AYP, compared to 2011 results.

According to a press release from the state department of education, Secretary Ron Tomalis said that based on recent investigations of suspected cheating in 2009, it's highly probable that tests were tampered with prior to that year.

The 2011-12 PSSA scores accurately reflect the work of students, not the efforts of those who are only interested in preserving the image of an educational institution and its personnel, reads the press release.

“The 2011-12 PSSA scores should be viewed as a reset point for student achievement in Pennsylvania,” Tomalis said.

“This is the first year the department can confidently report that PSSA scores are a true reflection of student achievement and academic progress.”

Gateway administrators took exception to Tomalis' comments.

“I disagree 200 percent,” said Nancy Hines, Gateway director of curriculum and instruction.

“We were monitored the last two consecutive years and there were zero findings.”

Gateway was suspected of tampering with tests in 2009, but after state officials showed up unannounced to monitor test procedures, the district was cleared, Hines said.

If a school or district does not meet its AYP for five years in a row, it is subject to governance changes such as reconstitution, chartering, and privatization.

In the meantime, improvement plans, school choice, and supplemental education services are still required.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or

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