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Monessen striving to exit state list of low-achieving schools

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Although all three Monessen schools made the state's low-achieving school list based on last year's standardized test scores, Superintendant Linda Marcolini has a message for district parents: Be patient.

Marcolini insisted Monday the district is executing a plan to raise scores in the April testing round.

The list of schools — released Friday — contains the lowest-achieving 15 percent of elementary and secondary schools, based on combined math and reading scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests from the 2011-12 school year.

“As hard as we're working and trying to make a difference, we did not make the scores last year,” Marcolini said Monday. “Our teachers are very dedicated, and we're taking specific steps to improve not only our test scores, but providing a better overall curriculum.

“We're not happy about our test scores either, but Monessen is not unique in this.”

Marcolini noted that other Pittsburgh-area school districts on the list comprised Albert Gallatin, Aliquippa, Brownsville Area, Connellsville Area, Clairton, Duquesne, Jeannette City, McKeesport Area, Penn Hills, Steel Valley, Sto-Rox, Uniontown, Wilkinsburg, Woodland Hills and West Greene – along with 21 Pittsburgh City schools.

She noted the parallel among the socio-economic status of those districts, adding that cuts in public educational spending by Gov. Tom Corbett disproportionately affected poor school districts.

“Over the last couple years, we lost $2.5 million because of Corbett's budget, and that makes a lot of difference. And many other school districts lost millions as well,” Marcolini said.

“We're working with 7½ teachers less this year than the year before. The stakes of the tests are going higher and higher, while we're trying to do more with less personnel.”

For the 2013-14 school year, students who live within the attendance boundaries of listed schools may be eligible for scholarship money to attend other schools — public or private — outside the district.

Marcolini said that based on state law, the district will send letters by Feb. 22 that inform parents about the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, as well as instructions on how families may apply.

Marcolini said the district is working to be better. Monessen has implemented Response to Intervention Training, in which small groups of students are removed from regular class to work on specific educational deficits.

On Jan. 29, Monessen Elementary Center started an after-school tutorial program, as well.

The state will administer standardized tests again in April.

“We've made it the last several years with our test scores, and we have a lot of support programs in place,” Marcolini said. “I feel confident we'll do well.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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