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Elementary PSSA scores upset board

| Friday, Oct. 3, 2008

During a review of the 2008 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, test scores at the Southmoreland School Board meeting Thursday, school principals and administrators were given an ultimatum -- get elementary PSSA test scores up or else.

"In my environment, if you're failing that bad, you're looking for a new job," said Board Member James Rausch. "I am ashamed to have scores like that in a district where I'm on the school board. We're destroying these kids."

His comments came after a presentation showed steadily dropping proficiency percentage reading scores in grades four, five and six.

With the target reading score at 63 percent, third-graders did well with 78 percent being proficient, but fourth grade students fell below the target with just 58 percent proficient, falling from 67 percent in 2006 and 63 percent in 2007.

The fifth-graders also fell below the target score at just 50 percent proficiency, which also was down from 55 percent in 2007 and 76.8 percent in 2006.

Sixth-grade percentages were more positive with 62 percent of students proficient, just one percent below the target.

"At certain grade levels, there's a strong disconnect with what's taught in the classroom compared to what the state is saying they should know," said Dr. Tim Scott, principal of Southmoreland Primary Center and curriculum administrator.

But Rausch said that if the teachers aren't teaching the right things, it's the administrators' responsibility to step in and make sure they are.

"This needs to be addressed immediately," he said. "This is unacceptable. There is a sense of urgency here. A plan has to be implemented now."

The elementary math scores were much better than the reading scores. With the target math score at 56 percent, third-graders reached 83 percent proficiency, and fourth-graders did well at 79 percent.

Fifth-graders also were proficient at 56.1 percent, which was up from their 51 percent proficiency rating in 2007. But board members still had some concerns there since the state average in fifth grade math was 73 percent proficient.

In sixth grade, the students were as proficient as the state average of 71 percent.

Meanwhile, seventh grade and eighth grade scores in both math and reading were exceptional.

In seventh grade, students registered in math at 89.3 percent, which was up from 67 percent proficiency in 2006 and 75 percent proficiency in 2007. Their reading scores were equally impressive at 73.3 percent proficient, which was more than 10 points above the target of 63 percent.

In eighth grade, students also were way above the target score of 56 percent in math at 80.3 percent and way above the target score of 63 percent in reading at 85.4 percent.

Junior high Principal Dan Clara said that last year about 315 students checked out more than 7,000 books from the library thanks to the accelerated reading program. This number was up from just over 2,000 books checked out in 2006.

After compiling some data provided by the state's Department of Education, Clara shared that in 2003, the junior high was ranked in the 29th percentile in eighth grade reading of over 900 middle schools in the state, and in 2007, the junior high moved up to the 67th percentile. In math, the junior high went from the 29th percentile to the 82nd percentile in the same time period.

"Right now, the junior high is the only school in the state that is recognized on the Professional Learning Committee (the teaching format the junior high has been following) Web site," Clara said. "Our school profile success story is there for schools all over the world to read, and we have been contacted by schools throughout the United States who wish to know more about our system and how we implement it."

Eleventh grade is the only grade at the high school level that participates in the PSSA testing. High school Principal Wesley Nicholson gave their score updates.

In math testing, 56 percent of 11th-graders were proficient, which was the target number as well as the state's average percentage. This score has risen from 52 percent in 2006 and 54 percent in 2007.

Nicholson said that while they did work with all 11th-graders as a whole, their main focus was on the subgroup of economically disadvantaged students.

"Last year we saw a 16 point increase from the year before in that subgroup," he said.

When it came to reading test scores, 70 percent of 11th-graders in the district were proficient. This was seven points above the target number and five points above the state average.

"Again, our main focus was on the economically disadvantaged subgroup and that number went up from 49 percent in 2007 to 73 percent in 2008," Nicholson said.

Nicholson also informed board members what the target percentage will be up until the year 2014.

In 2009 and 2010, the target math score will remain at 56 percent; in 2011, it will go to 57 percent; in 2012, it will jump to 78 percent; in 2013, it will rise to 89 percent, until perfection is expected at 100 percent in 2014.

In 2009 and 2010, the target reading score will remain at 63 percent; in 2011, it will go to 72 percent; in 2012, it will jump to 81 percent; in 2013, it will rise to 91 percent, until, again, perfection is expected at 100 percent in 2014.

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