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Look beyond scores, schools advise parents as new school profiles released

As parents and the community look at the School Performance Profiles for their district’s schools, educators say it’s hard to compare some scores from previous years.

The newly-released profiles for 2015-16 come after a one-year pause in calculation of profile scores for elementary and middle schools last year. That’s because the state changed the tests to make them align more closely to Pennsylvania Core Standards. But scores were issued for high schools.

“If we look at scores from two years ago, we are comparing apples and oranges, or said another way, it would be like comparing how students did in world cultures to how they did in American history,” said Mark Leidy, superintendent of Mechanicsburg Area School District.

School report cards are out: How did your school do?

Leidy said the core standards shifts curriculum from memorization of facts to deeper thinking, which is a change he supports. But it takes time for teachers and students to adapt to the changes, and this type of thinking is difficult to measure on a standardized test.

The profiles are not just a number, but a tool districts use to improve what’s taught in the classroom, said Gary Quiqley, assistant superintendent of secondary education in Cumberland Valley School District.

“It’s a pretty long process – it’s more than just looking at that score. We’re trying to understand why that score is what it is,” Quigley said. “We are working now on looking at ways to improve…We are digging into the root reasons for the changes.”

In Cumberland Valley, elementary and middle school scores dropped with the new Pa. Core-aligned tests, just as they did across the state, he said. The district will now be examining its curriculum to see what should be changed to better prepare students for the tests, he said.

They also “drill down” into students’ scores to see whether the district is closing the achievement gap, and helping underperforming students catch up.

Why were the tests so much harder for elementary and middle school students?

Quigley said some material was moved down a grade, and higher level thinking is required in answering questions.

For example, instead of asking students to answer questions after reading a passage, they are now asked to read two and compare them, said Patty Hillery, assistant superintendent for elementary education.

In Mechanicsubrg, Leidy said they’ve also seen a larger range of profile scores between buildings than in previous years.

“Generally, our elementary and middle school scores are lower than they were prior to the change in standards and tests. Our high school scores, which are based on the most consistent testing measures, have increased this year,” Leidy said.

Leidy is among those who don’t feel the profiles give an accurate measure of how the district’s schools are doing.

“The current School Performance Profile model is heavily weighted in a single metric of standardized tests. Most educators and parents agree standardized tests scores do not capture an accurate picture of how schools are doing for our children,” he said.

As parents look at the profile results, Leidy said he wants them to know Mechanicsburg continues to provide “an excellent education” for their children.

“We do not deny the need for accountability, in fact we consistently look for feedback on how we are doing as a school system. I caution anyone who puts too much emphasis on these scores because the metrics have changed each year for the last several years and most likely will change again next year,” he said.

Scores in many schools dropped last year due to increased rigor on the realigned PSSA tests for grades 3-8. Scores improved this year, but work remains to be done, particularly in math, said the state Department of Education.

PSSA tests are given in grades three through eight in math and literature and in grades four and eight in science. The Keystone Exams are end-of-course exams administered in high school literature, biology and Algebra 1.

Here is how the School Performance Profile is calculated:

  • 50 percent: PSSA and Keystone and SAT/ACT test results, grade three reading proficiency; how well the district is moving toward proficiency of all students.
  • 40 percent: Indicators of academic growth in students from year to year.
  • 10 percent: Factors such as graduation, promotion and attendance rates.

Ryan Argot, district spokesman, said he couldn’t elaborate on the Profiles, which just came out this morning. West Shore School District residents can learn more about how district schools performed on PSSA tests during a study session tonight at 7 p.m. in the administration center.

Here are how some midstate schools scored. Check your district’s profile on the state’s School Performance Profile web site.

Standardized test scores show Pa. schools have more work to do

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