Performance drops in half of Alle-Kiski Valley schools
As districts statewide continue to adjust to the state’s new way of calculating school performance, scores at a little over half of the schools in the Alle-Kiski Valley declined from last school year.
However, on average, about 80 percent of local schools received a 70 or higher on a 100-point scale, based on school performance data for 2013-14 that the state released.
The state Department of Education set 70 as its benchmark for schools that are doing well.
School Performance Profiles are weighted to reflect statewide student scores; overall academic growth; graduation, attendance and promotion rates; and performance factors for English-language learners and children from low-income homes.
They replace Adequate Yearly Progress goals mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Among the findings in this year’s report:
• Freeport Area Junior High and the now-closed Laurel Point Elementary in the Kiski Area School District received the highest scores, with 96.7 and 96.6 respectively.
• Valley High School had the lowest score locally at 56 points.
• An already struggling Highlands School District saw scores at all three of its schools drop from the previous school year.
In Highlands, Grandview Upper Elementary’s 2013-14 score declined by 10 points from 2012-13, to 62.1.
Highlands middle and high schools declined slightly to just above 60 points last school year.
The district’s scores are among the lowest locally.
“The scores aren’t where we want them to be,” said Pat Graczyk, assistant to the superintendent. “There’s a need for improvement, and we feel confident that we can do that.”
He said the scores don’t reflect recent changes the district implemented.
Those include a new assessment system that gives teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade up-to-date data on student progress in math and reading.
The system helps teachers instruct individual students based on their strengths and needs.
“We’ve had a lot of changes for the good; we just need the time to see how those things work,” Graczyk said. “We anticipate improvement.”
In the New Kensington-Arnold School District, the latest scores changed only slightly from 2012-13. H.D. Berkey Elementary, Valley Middle School and Valley High School still hovered around 60 points.
Superintendent John Pallone said he expects to see scores improve as a result of the new school configuration in the district, which creates a high school housing grades 7-12. It groups grades 3-6 together, while first- and second-graders attend another school.
The 2013-14 scores are based on the previous school configuration.
Pallone said there have been plenty of success stories in the district that aren’t reflected in the state data.
He said the high school graduation rate is up to 92 percent, the attendance rate is at 92.5 percent and about 75 percent of graduates are going on to post-secondary education.
“Those are three of the most important factors of success,” Pallone said.
“The performance data … it’s a benchmark, and you either meet it or you don’t,” he said. “We look at where we have improved. We’re showing improvement, and we continue to show improvement.”
He said elementary school reading specialists have helped reading scores improve and he anticipates the same improvement in math now that the district has elementary school math coaches.
Kiski Area Assistant Superintendent Scott Koter also said that the schools’ overall score doesn’t reflect the district’s success in having about 80 percent of students at each school score proficient in math and reading.
“We have high percentage of kids who are proficient and advanced,” he said. “But according to the (growth measure), we’re not consistently growing all those students as much as we were helping students in the lower end.”
The district has implemented teacher professional development to help them understand the difference between achievement and growth. They’ll also be focusing on instruction that is curriculum based as opposed to “drilling for the test,” Koter said.
Scores at the district’s newly configured schools — Kiski Area North Primary and Upper Elementary — both dropped by 12 points, while the now-closed Laurel Point, a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School, did well again with a score of 96.6.
Koter declined to address individual school scores.
“We never pit buildings against each other because they all have their own demographics,” he said.
In the Leechburg Area School District, where school scores dropped from 2012-13 to 2013-14, Superintendent Ian Magness said he can see benefits in the new evaluation system.
A positive aspect of the new school performance model is that it rewards districts for student growth, unlike the old Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measure.
“With AYP, achievement was the sole measure, whereas in this, an equitable amount of weight is placed on the measure of students growing from year to year,” Magness said. “We have students who don’t hit that benchmark, but they have approved dramatically from year to year.”
A statewide look
Grades for public schools statewide dropped marginally in 2013-14.
School performance results from 2012-13 show nearly 73 percent of schools received a 70 or higher, about half a percentage point higher than 2013-14.
Statewide, no county’s grade rose or fell more than five points from its average in 2012-13.
Butler County schools led the pack regionally with an average score of 82, with those in Armstrong, Allegheny and Westmoreland, each scoring above the state 76-point average.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or [email protected].