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Scores rise in many school districts in Westmoreland, Fayette counties | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Scores rise in many school districts in Westmoreland, Fayette counties

by KARI ANDREN AND NICOLE CHYNOWETH
| Saturday, November 8, 2014 12:01 a.m.

More than half of the school districts in Westmoreland and Fayette counties posted improved performance scores that rate academics, improvement and attendance, according to data released by the state Department of Education.

The School Performance Profiles, now in their second year, calculate a score out of 100 for each school in the state based on factors such as standardized test results, student improvement, attendance and Advanced Placement and SAT scores.

Eighteen of the 24 districts in the two counties earned an average score of 70 or better, results show.

The highest-scoring school in the region was Maxwell Elementary, part of the Hempfield Area School District, with a score of 99.5. The district averaged 87.39 overall.

“We are thrilled with our scores,” said Superintendent Barbara Marin. “We try not to be complacent. We’re proud of our scores, but we also know there are areas where we” can improve.

Marin said success at the elementary level is due, in part, to screenings that help teachers intervene early for students who need extra help. Collaborative teams meet all year and can adjust curriculum if necessary, she said.

At the high school, officials increased the number of AP classes offered and dedicated money so that all students could take the PSAT tests during the school day.

“We are looking at all of these things,” Marin said.

At Greensburg Salem School District, teachers have been working to improve scores by shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to one where students work at their own pace, said Ken Bissell, coordinator of secondary education. The district’s average score rose 4.8 points from the previous year, the largest gain among districts in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

At the middle school, students use an online math tool that gauges what each child is ready to learn and helps build skills from there. Teachers can see assessments for all students and pull out small groups for more focused instruction, Bissell said.

Last year, high school science teachers began using more diagnostic data to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses.

“We changed the outlook of the classroom. If we saw certain students were very strong in this area, (teachers) could lean on them almost like an aide,” Bissell said.

Acting Superintendent Leanne Spazak said the Monessen City School District has many areas it wants to improve but plans to emphasize reading.

“We figure, if you can’t read, how are you going to do well on a test, whether it’s math or reading?” she said.

The district’s average score was 52.3, impacted by its small size and relatively high number of students considered economically disadvantaged, Spazak said.

“The lower your economic status, the more difficult it is to improve student achievement. But we still have to figure out what we can do,” Spazak said. “We want these kids to grow.”

Spazak said the district received grants from the education department for the elementary school to partner with high-achieving West Jefferson Hills School District and for the high school to partner with South Western School District in York County. Mentoring schools will offer suggestions and Monessen will receive $10,000 to spend on each school, she said.

To improve a reading score of 76.6 at Stewart Elementary in the Burrell Area School District, assistant superintendant Matthew Conner said the district is implementing the Collins writing program, which expands writing curriculum across all subject areas, not just language arts. To improve math scores, Conner said the school will partner with Eisenhower Elementary School in Upper St. Clair under a grant from the education department.

Although three out of four schools in Burrell showed gains this year, Connor said he wants to keep looking for improvements.

“We’re just hoping it continues,” he said.

At Franklin Regional School District, Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said the focus is on improving student growth.

Each of its five schools saw decreases in their overall building scores while Sloan Elementary saw a 5-point jump.

Reljac attributed the gain simply to “the hard work of teachers and students each day.”

The School Performance Profile only offers a “small snapshot” of a student, Reljac said, as 90 percent of the score is based on one assessment. She said the district will continue to use other data to “chart the best path” for students.

Kari Andren and Nicole Chynoweth are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Andren can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com. Chynoweth can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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