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Quaker Valley tries to look beyond just standardized test scores

Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

With an emphasis on state and federal mandated testing, Quaker Valley administrators say they don't want to lose focus on offering students a well-rounded educational experience.

“The standards are changing, the tests are changing, (and) obviously we have to change what we're doing in the classroom in order to prepare our students not just for the test necessarily, but the standards,” said Jillian Bichsel, the district's director of academic services.

“There's a lot of other things going on in our classrooms right now that are really powerful learning tools.”

Bichsel noted the various projects built into the curriculum at different grade levels as learning experiences not focused on testing.

These things include the sophomore personal project and the project fifth-graders do to learn about research and technology.

“That's important learning that will not be reflected in the school performance profile,” she said.

“We need to make sure we're telling that story.

“We really don't want to lose sight of who we are and what makes us who we are. We're not typical, and that's a good thing.”

Students and educators face increases in testing, teacher evaluations, and school-improvement and accountability measures. By 2014, for example, a federal mandate in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math.

“There's a lot of unease right now in Pennsylvania and, really, across the country” over mandates in the federal No Child Left Behind Act and other laws.

“We are one year away from that, and we certainly have been improving, but 100 percent is still a very difficult number to even consider reaching,” Bichsel said.

“It's still difficult to imagine that we can move everybody to be 100 percent proficient.”

In 2012, 88 percent of Quaker Valley students in grades three through eight and grade 11 were proficient in mathematics, according to state Department of Education data.

During the same period and in the same grade levels, 89 percent of students were proficient in reading, according to data.

Districts were required to have 78 percent of students proficient in math and 81 percent proficient in reading last year.

In coming years, assessment scores, compiled with demographics and other data, will be available on a state Department of Education website, Bichsel said.

“It's kind of like a shopping tool,” she said.

“If people are shopping for a school district, this is probably the first place they'll go. It really gives a good perspective of who we are and what we're about.

“In some ways, it's a good communication tool, especially for parents who are shopping school districts. But there's some information that's going to be included on the school performance profile that will make some school districts uncomfortable.”

Included in the profile will be the number of students who take at least one Advanced Placement, or AP, course.

At Quaker Valley High School, 187 students took at least one of 18 AP classes offered in 2012, high school academic specialist Linda Conlon said. The school administered 349 AP exams last year, she said.

The district requires all students taking an AP course to take the corresponding exam.

“So it would be great for us if we could calculate all of the kids who take all of the different AP classes, but that's not the way they're calculating it,” Bichsel said.

School board member Kay Wijekumar said she disagreed with new calculation method for AP participation.

“That's an absolutely poor reflection of what's going on because many, many schools allow students to take AP classes, and they don't take the AP tests,” she said.

Bichsel said an emphasis on graduation-required exams and increased focus on assessment scores have on school performance numbers could force some districts to focus on tests.

“Some school districts are really, sort of, test-focused, and I think we have a nice balance when we think about testing at Quaker Valley,” she said.

“Yes, we're focused on it. Yes, we want to do well. But we don't ... drill students all year long in preparation for the tests.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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