Penn-Trafford officials happy with PSSA scores, not happy with Tomalis
Though Penn-Trafford officials said they are pleased that district students ranked first in Westmoreland County for Adequate Yearly Progress goals, they criticized the state education secretary for saying proficiency levels dropped statewide because of a crackdown on cheating.
A state report released last month showed that 91 percent of Penn-Trafford students achieved proficiency in math and 88 achieved proficiency in reading on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, tests last school year. The district's scores topped the state goals for at least 78 percent of students to be proficient in math and at least 81 percent in reading.
“We have great students and parents that care about education, so this is a really good place to be right now,” Superintendent Tom Butler said.
All eight Penn-Trafford schools exceeded the standards established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the seventh straight year.
The news wasn't as good across the state, as the proportion of students scoring proficient or advanced dropped 1.4 percent age points in math and 1.6 percent age points in reading statewide.
State education Secretary Ron Tomalis told reporters last month that the scores fell because of stiffer testing security measures related to an investigation into alleged cheating on past tests.
But a follow-up report by the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown quoted a PSSA adviser from the Center for Assessment in Dover, N.H., as saying Tomalis “might have overstated” the effect of cheating.
Butler said Tomalis “really put words in (Marianne Perie's) mouth.”
“She mentioned that there were other things that could have lowered those (scores), and one of them is simply the fact that people were so paranoid about doing illegal things that they did not do the things that they could do to help students during the test,” Butler said.
Butler said Tomalis's reasoning didn't hold water.
“It's unfortunate that, in this day and age, that we have as a leader of our system in the state someone that so blatantly dislikes public schools,” he said.
Shaun Rinier, president of the Penn-Trafford Education Association, said he is bothered by Tomalis making a “wild accusation.” He said the Penn-Trafford students' scores are impressive.
“I know that all the teachers are very proud, and it's a total community effort,” Rinier said.
With the Pennsylvania School Boards Association having a conference next week, school board member Jay Tray said, the issue isn't dead. Tomalis' comments are being reviewed by several people, including legislators, he said.
“We're going to be a little more cautious at this stage until we find out other things that transpired,” Tray said.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.