Keystone, Charter School PSSA student test scores revealed

A couple weeks ago, The Express reported on Keystone Central School District’s Keystone Exam scores.

Now it’s time for the PSSAs.

The PSSA results, which are published by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, show a mixed bag of results for Keystone Central — some schools are performing at or above the state averages, while others are lagging behind.

The PSSAs — short for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment — began in 1992, and are a standardized test most commonly used to evaluate teacher and school performance, as well as to identify students who are under-performing and are in need of additional help.

The PSSAs are supposed to represent a rough metric for what a student should know at the grade he or she is being tested at, as decided by the State of Pennsylvania’s educational core standards. The Math and English Language components are given to students in grades three through eight, with fourth and eighth graders also receiving an additional Science and Technology component.

The data is reported across four categories per test, depicting the percentage of test-takers who placed in the Advanced category, the Proficient category, the Basic category, and the Below Basic category. These categories are described by the Department of Education as:

r “The Below Basic Level reflects inadequate academic performance, and work at this level demonstrates a minimal command of and ability to apply the knowledge, skills and practices represented in the Pennsylvania standards.”

r “The Basic Level reflects marginal academic performance, and work at this level demonstrates a partial command of an ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and practices represented in the Pennsylvania standards.”

r “The Proficient Level reflects satisfactory academic performance, and work at this level demonstrates an adequate command of an ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and practices represented in the Pennsylvania standards.”

r “The Advanced Level reflects superior academic performance, and work at this level demonstrates a thorough command of and ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and practices represented in the Pennsylvania standards.”

In other words, Below Basic and Basic are considered unsatisfactory results.

The Department of Education takes a composite of all of these scores from across Pennsylvania and forms state averages for each subject and for each grade tested. Comparing your school’s results to these averages provides a useful snapshot of information for parents and community members who wish to evaluate their district’s performance in various areas.

Now, before taking this understanding and applying it to the 2017 test scores, it is worth adding in the same disclaimer that the Education Department stresses on its PSSA website: “Assessment scores represent a snapshot in time of student performance, and should not be considered the sole indicator of student achievement.”

Likewise, while one test does provide insight into which schools, grades, and subjects feature the most effective teaching methods, it should not be used as either endorsement or condemnation, as the data is complex and must include considerations of student populations, both those who are economically disadvantaged and student populations that vary wildly in size in relation to one another, as well as a host of other contextual information.

The following conclusions are but the highlights … and lowlights:

THE GOOD NEWS

r Renovo Elementary beat the state average on math scores across the board, with the largest gap coming from 4th grade, which beat the average by over 10 percent.

r Woodward Elementary beat the average for 5th grade math.

r Mill Hall Elementary beat the state average on both 4th and 5th grade math.

r Central Mountain Middle School beat the average score for 8th grade math.

r Sugar Valley Rural Charter School also had a success, narrowly beating the state average for 3rd grade math.

r Renovo Elementary repeats on the good list by beating the state average for 3rd grade English.

r Woodward appears again as well, beating the average for both 3rd and 5th grade English, with 3rd grade achieving an almost 9 percent lead on the state.

r As for science, Liberty-Curtin Elementary, Mill Hall Elementary, and Renovo Elementary all surpassed the state average in 4th grade science.

THE BAD NEWS

r Dickey Elementary performed poorly across the board, with particularly bad spots including almost 20 percent deficits for all three grades of English and a massive 27 percent lower than the state average for 4th grade math.

r Bucktail Area Middle School was also under the state average by a large margin for all grades of math, capped by a 22 percent drop from the state average for 6th grade math.

r While ahead on science, Liberty-Curtin Elementary flagged a bit in both English and math. Most of Liberty-Curtin’s scores, though low, were still fairly close to the overall averages — except for 3rd grade English, which was just over 23 percent beneath the state average.

r Interestingly, Robb Elementary is close to average for 3rd grade but that declines in later grades.

r Aside from the 3rd grade math score, Sugar Valley Rural Charter School’s performance was weak overall. Its worst: 6th grade math, with just 2.6 percent of students posting either Advanced or Proficient scores, compared to a state average of 40.3 percent … a 37.7 percent difference. None of the school’s other tests, while generally negative compared to the state average, were close to this poor, however.

OVERALL SUMMARIES

r Mill Hall Elementary, Renovo Elementary, and Central Mountain Middle School seem to be holding steady around the state average, with a few outlying advantages and disadvantages each.

r Woodward Elementary featured strong performances in 3rd and 5th grade, posting results either above average or close to the average in several categories, but was also below average by over 10 percent in both 4th grade math and 4th grade English. Fourth grade science was also lower than the average, but by a narrower 5 percent gap.

r With the exception of one strong suit each, Liberty-Curtin Elementary and the Sugar Valley Rural Charter School performed below state average across the board.

r Bucktail Middle School, Robb Elementary, and Dickey Elementary students did not beat the state average in any subject.

r The Department of Education’s posted results are available online at this website, for any parents or community members who wish to view the exact data for themselves: http://www.education.pa.gov/pages/pssa-information.aspx#tab-1

Normally, requests to the administration for comments on the test scores are directed to Terry Murty, Keystone’s curriculum director. But Superintendent Kelly Hastings confirmed to The Express this week that Murty is on paid leave, and that the board will be asked Thursday to approve a paid leave for him, “a portion of which will be covered under FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act.)”

As a result, Hastings offered the following answers to questions about the test results:

1) What is your reaction to your district’s PSSA scores for 2017?

Hastings: “Much like the results on the Keystone Exams, the percentage of students at the advanced/proficient level appears somewhat flat when compared to last year. Science scores remained strong across the district. However, many schools show great growth particularly in the area of mathematics. Some schools show some increases in the percent of students achieving in the advanced/proficient range, but did not show as much growth as schools that may have had much lower percentage scores. Our reaction always includes that this test is just a ‘snapshot’ of students on a particular test during a particular time of the year. There are many other factors that measure the success of students in our schools.”

2) What are you currently focusing on with regards to these exams? Is there any area in particular that you feel is more important to improve for the district?

Hastings: “Principals and teachers are always looking at this and other data and including it in their school’s Continuous Improvement Plan which is reviewed and approved by the state. The data allows the schools to see what areas are strong and where children are growing, as well as areas that may need to be emphasized with regard to the PA Common Core Standards. The data is all building-based, so different buildings have different areas where they are very successful and those where they may need to improve. As a result, the improvement plans are building based and are subject to change each year as different students with different needs are factored into the results.”

3) What steps are you taking, or have you already taken, with an eye toward improving Keystone’s rankings in the various areas?

Hastings: “This is the third year teachers have had the new materials purchased by the district in both Mathematics and English Language Arts, so teachers are continuing to refine their lessons and become more familiar with the changes in the testing brought about by the new and much more rigorous Pennsylvania Common Core Standards. There have also been professional development opportunities for the faculty to look at ways to improve student outcomes.”

4) What are some factors that may have played into your results between years?

Hastings: “Certainly the change in the testing and the more rigorous questions being asked of students because of the PA Common Core has created a ‘push down’ curriculum that demands that students grasp more difficult concepts even earlier in their school careers than was the case with the PA Academic Standards. This kind of change takes time for teachers and for students.”

5) Any general comments that you’d like to make for the public?

Hastings: “As has been said many times, our students and our schools are much more than their test scores. Our teachers do so much more than just teach our students mathematics and English language arts. They teach them about kindness, and how to be a good friend and citizen, and many other lessons that are critical to a well-rounded education and becoming a contributing member of our community and of society. There are very few institutions in our community that would want their success measured by one score on one exam…the same is true of our schools. We have great students, teachers, staff, and administrators continually doing fantastic work. Our effort will be to look at the scores and learn from them, but we do not define ourselves by them.”

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