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Alle-Kiski near perfect on state tests

| Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005

All but one of the Valley's schools met the minimum standards on state assessment tests last year, according to test results released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

Under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, a certain percentage of students must be proficient in math and reading on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.

At least 45 percent of students in those grades must be proficient in math and 54 percent must be proficient in reading. This is an increase of about 10 percentage points from the previous year's requirements.

In addition to the total student body meeting the requirements, the same percentage of students in subgroups must meet the state targets. Subgroups include minorities, special education students and economically disadvantaged students.

It is the last subgroup that caused New Kensington-Arnold School District's Valley Middle School to fall below the state's requirements.

Superintendent Tom Wilczek said the middle school's group of disadvantaged eighth-graders improved from the year before but not enough to meet the state standards. Only 36 percent of poor students were proficient in reading and 30 percent were proficient in math.

Wilczek said the district has more students from poor families than some neighboring districts, which makes it more difficult to meet the state's requirements.

"A lot of wealthy school districts don't have that subgroup, so they look better than us," Wilczek said.

Only schools with at least 40 students or 15 percent of the total student body qualify for any of subgroups that must meet the state targets in that subgroup.

Fox Chapel Area High School, for instance, is not required to have a percentage of its economically disadvantage children meet state minimum scores because there aren't enough poor students attending the school.

Wilczek said a large turnover of administrators at the middle school hasn't helped the school maintain consistent leadership in terms of the PSSAs. Since principals have remained more constant at the high school and elementary schools, scores have been better.

"The middle school is not doing well," Wilczek said. "I was hoping it would be better, but we'll keep trying."

Several districts that did not make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, two years ago due to the performance of children in subgroups did improve during testing last school year.

Armstrong, Deer Lakes, Freeport Area, Highlands, Kiski Area and South Butler County all met AYP during the 2004-05 school year after missing the cut-off the two previous years, in most cases because either poor or special education students did not score high enough.

Highlands' Assistant Superintendent Karol Galcik credited the implementation of a districtwide improvement plan with boosting scores. She said literacy programs at the high school, stressing reading in all subjects and changes in the math curriculum have helped.

"We're on our way," she said.

South Butler County Assistant Superintendent Lyn Logelin said the district looked at scores of students who were not meeting the targets and developed improvement strategies for individual students.

"We have had slow and steady progress in each of the grades every year," Logelin said.

Janet Ciramella, an assistant superintendent at Deer Lakes, said teachers have been acquainting students with the PSSA test format throughout the year so that they are more accustomed to the actual tests.

"Instead of just giving them a PSSA crash test two weeks before the tests, they've been seeing the format throughout the year," she said.

Ciramella said the district also has provided training for both regular and special education teachers to help them better prepare special education students for the exams. It is that subgroup that prevented the district from making AYP the two previous years.

Ciramella said she's hopeful the district's special education students will meet the targets again this year, which will kick the district off of the state Department of Education's watch list.

"Then we'll be out of the danger zone," Ciramella said. "I'm quite pleased with our scores."

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