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Westmoreland educators complain about early release of incorrect data

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Educators say state education officials botched the release of what should have been the department's crowning achievement, the latest piece of a new accountability system designed to replace No Child Left Behind.

Acting Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq delayed the debut of a new website several days after complaints from more than 20 percent of the state's 3,000 schools that data were incorrect or incomplete. The site, made available Friday afternoon, was first scheduled to appear Monday.

In development for more than three years, School Performance Profiles feature one number grade for every school — from 0 to 100, or up to 107 with extra credit. Districts do not receive scores as a whole.

Spokesman Tim Eller reported on Monday that 626 schools asked for their score growth data to be excluded until corrections are made and 1,444 schools requested updates in other data. For schools with missing data or incomplete scores, he said, the state will issue new scores in January.

Penn-Trafford School District interim Superintendent Matthew Harris said his district was one of many that opted to suppress the data until corrections are made. He was concerned that the state released the information too early, especially because it could change how the public views the district as a whole.

“I feel they should release it when it's all fixed,” Harris said. “Give everyone a true release one time versus an explanation and then releasing it later.”

Most high schools do not have data available now on the assessment website because of an error in how they marked the Keystone Exams, making some of the scores inaccurate.

Superintendents were allowed to ask the state to keep the data from the public until fixes could be made.

“What good does that do, though?” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, who lobbied the state to postpone the site's release until all data can be added and verified.

“We're frustrated by the lack of communication, clarity and the timeframe we were given to approve the data they submitted on our behalf,” he said. “To knowingly release the new system with errors is a totally inappropriate way to represent our schools.”

Yough School District also opted to keep its high school scores from showing until the errors were corrected, said Superintendent Janet Sardon.

“I would say almost all the school districts in Westmoreland County did,” she said.

Sardon speculated that Yough's scores would rise with corrected data.

“We've had a lot of opportunities to do corrections over the past nine months, a lot of correction windows,” she said. “The last thing (Keystone Exams) was more a logistical thing than anything else.”

Sardon said she viewed the new assessment as an improvement over Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.

Officials based school scores on the results of statewide Keystone and end-of-course exams, attendance, graduation rates and student growth from year to year as part of the new School Performance Profile, which replaces the AYP goals outlined in No Child Left Behind.

In Westmoreland County, Monessen City, Jeannette City and some others had no data listed for any schools. But the majority were missing only high school scores.

Greensburg-Salem School District did not have scores listed for the middle or high schools.

Kenneth Bissell, coordinator of secondary education and instruction, said there were issues with the data. As with other schools, the main issue was the Keystone Exams.

School officials were hesitant to discuss the data until everything is released.

Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, praised the state for its responsiveness but said many Allegheny County superintendents were still waiting for corrections they requested weeks ago.

“I understand this is very complex and it takes time to pull all the data from these multiple sources and get it online, but that's why we should've delayed,” Hippert said. “Why push to get it out there? The public will see these scores and draw conclusions, despite the disclaimers.”

Megan Harris and Kate Wilcox are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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