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Monessen school officials say district unfairly singled out

| Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011

MONESSEN �" Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Chelen said the district was unfairly singled out in a recent report that flagged state schools for irregularities in standardized tests.

Monessen was one of 11 western Pennsylvania schools identified in a 2008 Data Forensics Report that analyzed scores and participation on the 2009 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test.

It is used to determine whether schools are meeting standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Data Recognition Corp., of Minnesota, which creates the PSSA test, completed the report in July of that year, but its contents did not become public until July 12 when a media outlet released it.

Chelen said the fourth grade classes in 2008 and 2009 were flagged for increases in scaled scores and performance levels. She said the report did not show there were any erasures by students or allegations of cheating.

She said the report "unfairly" compared the two classes. The 2008 fourth grade class had 55 students, of which 10 had Individual Education Plans designed for those with special educational needs. The 2009 class had 67 students, six of which had IEPs.

There also was a decrease in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in the 2009 class, she said.

"It is very difficult to compare two different groups of students. It would make more sense to follow the same class from year to year to look for improvements throughout their school years as opposed to comparing them to other groups of students," Chelen said.

Chelen said she contacted state Department of Education officials, who told her to submit a report.

She said the percentages used in the report were also skewed because Monessen is small compared to other districts.

The annual PSSA test measures math and reading skills in students in grades three through eight and 11. Students must meet standards in reading and math in accordance with No Child Left Behind. If certain groups of students, such as economically disadvantaged or black students, miss targets, a district risks not meeting standards.

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