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Teachers test results revive dispute

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003

State education officials have released scores for 125 districts that participated in the second round of teacher testing, including three Westmoreland County school districts and two in Fayette County.

About 18,000 of the state's 118,000 teachers took reading and math tests through the Professional Development Assistance Program last fall. Results for districts are available on the Web site for the state Department of Education, but scores for individual tests are reported only to the teachers.

Department spokesman Jeff McCloud said test results overall were very good.

"We think Pennsylvania's teachers are well-trained and doing a good job and know their subjects," McCloud said. "The scores will show how well a district's teachers performed — how well they know reading and math based on Pennsylvania's academic standards."

The reports indicate if schools are above or below average compared to the mean results for other teachers who took the test. McCloud said the tests were not designed as a pass-or-fail tool, but to help districts identify strengths and weaknesses in reading and math.

"The whole purpose was to give school districts the information so they could plan their professional development courses," McCloud said.

In Westmoreland County, teachers participated in testing in the Ligonier Valley, Monessen City and Kiski Area school districts. In Fayette, the districts chosen for testing were Uniontown and Laurel Highlands.

According to the state's Web site, the three Westmoreland County districts did not score significantly above or below the state mean. However, two Fayette County elementary schools were tagged by the state for having low scores. Reading scores at the Hutchinson Elementary School in the Laurel Highlands School District were tagged as being significantly below the state mean, as were math scores at the Lafayette School in the Uniontown School District. However, the Kennedy Elementary School in Laurel Highlands was tagged as having math scores significantly above the state mean.

Superintendents in those two districts were unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.

Many have criticized the testing program itself.

Dr. Alex M. Warren, superintendent in the Monessen School District, said the test concept is "flawed." He said such programs are not used in the business world and should not be used in schools.

"No other profession would determine whether their people are capable based on a test. <#201> It should be based on performance," Warren said.

He said he believes teachers should be accountable but that standardized tests are not the answer.

"We have better ways to evaluate the performance of our employees," Warren said. "Teaching is more of an art than a science."

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, also has faulted the program.

"We believe that the test doesn't do what is claimed," said Wythe Keever, PSEA spokesman. "It doesn't actually measure the teacher's ability to teach in the classroom. We question whether any paper and pencil test could accomplish that."

During the first round of tests, there were numerous technical problems and difficulties logging into the Internet-based testing system. The education department said it made changes to the test to prevent technical problems.

The state is paying $1.5 million annually for the program, designed to test teachers over a five-year period. However, there is speculation that Gov.-elect Ed Rendell will ax the program when he takes office.

Complete results of the recent round of testing can be viewed at the education department's Web site: www.pde.state.pa.us

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