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Franklin Regional schools do well in new achievement reports

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Despite the implementation of tougher state assessments, Franklin Regional schools were among the highest scoring in the county in a new measure of student achievement.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Education released the inaugural school-performance profiles, a report that indicates student performance and improvement on standardized tests. The profile and its accompanying academic score replace the “annual yearly progress” benchmark that had been used to evaluate schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“Many of our students are scoring very well,” Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said. “This is just the floor, not the ceiling. We need to make (our curriculum) even more rigorous and exciting for them. I believe every student should go home tired at the end of the day because they worked hard and enjoyed it.”

Throughout Westmoreland County, officials at 22 schools — including Franklin Regional High School — declined to let the state release some school-performance data. Reljac said Franklin Regional withheld its high school information because of worries about the accuracy of the data the department used.

However, just five schools — including three from the Greater Latrobe School District — received a higher school-performance score than Franklin Regional Middle School. All four remaining Franklin Regional schools were among those in Westmoreland with the 25 highest scores.

There are 92 schools in Westmoreland County.

Much of the school-performance profile score — about 50 percent — is determined by student performance on state standardized exams and how the school has increased the percent of students testing at proficient on those tests.

Those numbers varied wildly between grade levels and schools, according to grade-level data calculated by district officials — data that no longer is released by the state. For instance, 73 percent of fourth-graders at Heritage Elementary met state reading standards, while 98 percent fourth graders at Newlonsburg students met state science standards.

Franklin Regional officials said the single-building score released in the school profile isn't reflective of the quality of education at a school.

“It seems that it doesn't necessarily reflect the whole picture of that data because it takes so many different pieces and boils it down into one particular score,” Reljac said.

Students performed well at the middle school, the profile shows. In math, 91 percent of students met or exceeded state standards; 88 percent met or exceeded reading and literature standards. About 90 percent of students tested met or exceeded writing standards, while 84.5 percent of eighth-graders met science standards.

That's no easy feat, Superintendent Jamie Piraino said. The tests administered to students were more difficult than in years past. The tests for grades three through eight had new, pilot sections that are aligned to Common Core standards, Piraino said. While those questions didn't count towards this year's scores, they raised the level of difficulty significantly, he said.

“The new assessments require students to ‘double bubble'; there are two right answers,” Piraino said. “It requires deeper responses, where they have to apply multiple concepts to get the right answer. It is a more difficult assessment, by what the kids have told us and by what staff who have monitored have told us.”

While district officials said they are overall pleased with student performance, they will continue to create on intervention programs for students who struggle. Teachers across the district will continue to review teaching practices to ensure students are learning relevant information in a meaningful way.

“Parents should be aware that looking at what we need to do as a school is ongoing,” Reljac said. “It's not contingent upon one release of data.”

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