Grading our schools: annual analysis of education stats
Only three of 37 school districts in Northeast Pennsylvania exceed all averages on state tests and the SAT, according to Times-Shamrock Newspapers' annual analysis of academic performance.
The districts - Crestwood, Dallas and Delaware Valley - outperformed the other districts in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.
Two other school districts - Abington Heights and Wyoming Area - missed meeting the average in only one testing area.
Though the school districts are exceeding state averages, schools across the region have a long way to go before all students can perform proficiently on math and reading tests. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires proficiency in those subjects by 2014.
"We're in the right direction," said Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak, Ed.D. "We won't accept anything but all of our students meeting expectations. I think we can get to 100 percent."
The newspaper analyzed 2007-08 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test scores and SAT test scores for 501 districts and more than 3,000 schools statewide, as well as a dozen other key educational factors as part of its annual Grading Our Schools special report.
Although no districts achieved 100 percent proficiency as a whole, some individual schools did on various PSSA tests. In Pennsylvania, the PSSAs, which are used to determine proficiency, are taken by third- through eighth-graders and 11th-graders.
In its ninth year of publication, this year's Grading Our Schools report includes charts on the region's 37 public school districts, as well as comprehensive online databases with searchable information on all 501 school districts in the state available at www.thetimes-tribune.com/education. The databases include educators' profiles with salaries, financial information, district and student demographics and test scores. Users can tailor search results in the databases to compare districts.
Area superintendents whose districts exceeded averages say the feat is done through hard work.
"We have teachers who understand the need for quality instruction," said Brian Waite, assistant superintendent at Crestwood. "We have students who come to school wanting and willing to work because they have parents who understand the importance of a quality education."
At Dallas, exceeding averages is the result of adjusting curriculum, remediating students and tracking progress, said Karen Kyle, Dallas School Board president.
"It is our expectation that the 11th-grade PSSA will eventually show the work we've done from elementary school on," she said.
Abington Heights, which has consistently exceeded all averages in previous Grading Our Schools reports, missed meeting the state average on just the 11th-grade math PSSA.
The elementary and middle schools are starting a new math curriculum next year and the high school is adding a pre-engineering program, but looking at one test score is "not necessarily productive," said Michael Mahon, Ph.D., Abington Heights superintendent.
"I don't know that a single year would have particular meaning," Dr. Mahon said. "We expect our scores to be higher than that."
No school district reported 100 percent proficiency at any grade level on the 2008 math, reading or writing tests, but some individual schools achieved 100 percent proficiency:
- Third-grade reading: Preston Elementary, Wayne Highlands, 19 students tested
- Fourth-grade math: South Abington Elementary, Abington Heights, 59 students
- Fifth-grade math: Preston Elementary, 22 students
- Sixth-grade reading: Preston Elementary, 21 students
Among the other schools receiving high proficiency marks was Frances Willard Elementary School in Scranton. Scores at the West Side school included: third-grade math, 98.7 percent; third-grade reading, 94.8 percent; fourth-grade math, 98.9 percent; and fourth-grade reading, 96.7 percent.
Critics of No Child Left Behind often say it is impossible for all students to meet the 100 percent mark because of their varied academic abilities.
But Dr. Zahorchak is confident that districts can get to 100 percent.
Students who have serious cognitive impairments, about 3 percent of children, are able to take alternate tests, and other students in special education can get to the proficiency mark with "great support," Dr. Zahorchak said.
"We have to become a culture where we're not giving a pass," he said. "It's not about the time, it's about the effort."
PSSA highs and lows
In order to maintain funding and not fall into penalty, districts must meet the state's proficiency targets on the PSSAs.
For the 2007-08 scores, Pennsylvania's target was for 56 percent of students to score proficiently or higher in math, and 63 percent for reading. The targets gradually increase until 2014, when 100 percent of students are expected to be proficient.
Across the state for all grade levels for 2008, 71.5 percent of students are at least proficient in math, 69.8 percent in reading, and 70.9 percent in writing.
If districts fail to meet target levels, they are subject to penalties and sanctions, or may be mandated to develop improvement plans, provide tutoring or be taken over by the state.
High and low PSSA combined percentages for advanced and proficient scores for the 37 area districts are:
- Third-grade math
Highs: Delaware Valley, 95.2 percent; Abington Heights, 92.5 percent
Lows: Hanover Area, 69.7 percent; Mountain View, 75 percent
- Third-grade reading
Highs: Abington Heights, 94.4 percent; Carbondale Area, 91.3 percent
Lows: Hanover Area, 61.7 percent; Mountain View, 66.3 percent
- Fourth-grade math
Highs: Delaware Valley, 96.5 percent; Susquehanna Community, 92 percent
Lows: Hanover Area, 68 percent; Forest City Regional, 71.7 percent
- Fourth-grade reading
Highs: Delaware Valley, 90.3; Abington Heights, 85.3 percent
Lows: Hanover Area, 54.6 percent; Blue Ridge, 55.1
- Fifth-grade math
Highs: Wyoming Area, 94.7 percent; Lake-Lehman, 86.9 percent
Lows: Tunkhannock Area, 61 percent; Wyoming Valley West, 62.8 percent
- Fifth-grade reading
Highs: Delaware Valley, 81.2 percent; Dallas, 80.8 percent
Lows: Old Forge, 49 percent; Carbondale Area, 51 percent
- Fifth-grade writing
Highs: Wyoming Area, 89.1 percent; Dallas, 85 percent
Lows: Old Forge, 28.3 percent; Greater Nanticoke Area, 28.4 percent
- Sixth-grade math
Highs: Susquehanna Community, 95.7 percent; Wyoming Area, 88.5 percent
Lows: Forest City Regional, 52.2 percent; Hanover Area, 52.7 percent
- Sixth-grade reading
Highs: Abington Heights, 87.2 percent; Delaware Valley, 87.2 percent
Lows: Carbondale Area, 55.1 percent; Lackawanna Trail, 57.4 percent
- Seventh-grade math
Highs: Delaware Valley, 91.2 percent; Abington Heights, 88.5 percent
Lows: Mountain View, 50.4 percent; Forest City Regional, 51.8 percent
- Seventh-grade reading
Highs: Abington Heights, 91.5 percent; Delaware Valley, 87.9 percent
Lows: Wilkes-Barre Area, 59.4 percent; Mid Valley, 63.4 percent
- Eighth-grade math
Highs: Abington Heights, 93 percent; Carbondale Area, 88.9 percent
Lows: Dunmore, 52.5 percent; Montrose Area, 58.6 percent
- Eighth-grade reading
Highs: Abington Heights, 96 percent; Carbondale Area, 94.4 percent
Lows: Wilkes-Barre Area, 73.1 percent; Montrose Area, 74 percent, Hazleton Area, 74 percent
- Eighth-grade writing
Highs: Abington Heights, 95.7 percent; Lakeland, 91.9 percent
Lows: Susquehanna Community, 48.3 percent; Pocono Mountain, 49.7 percent
- 11th-grade math
Highs: Wyoming Area, 83 percent; Old Forge, 67.6 percent
Lows: Forest City Regional, 34.4 percent; Pleasant Valley, 39.3 percent
- 11th-grade reading
Highs: Delaware Valley, 81.4 percent; Carbondale Area, 81.1 percent
Lows: Mid Valley, 47.7 percent; Elk Lake, 50 percent
- 11th-grade writing
Highs: Wyoming Area, 98.6 percent; Susquehanna Community, 97.5 percent
Lows: Northwest Area, 72.4 percent; Mountain View, 72.7 percent
PSSA scores from the 2008-09 school year will be released later this summer and they show even greater improvement, Dr. Zahorchack said.
Other notable findings
Of the 37 school districts in Northeast Pennsylvania, only seven - Abington Heights, Crestwood, Dallas, Delaware Valley, Lake-Lehman, Tunkhannock Area and Wayne Highlands - met or surpassed the state average of 995 on the SAT. Only two school districts, Tunkhannock Area and Wayne Highlands, met or surpassed the national average of 1017.
Only two of 37 local school districts are in the top 200 of 501 districts for attendance rates. Half of the districts are in the bottom 100 in the state.
For per-pupil spending, five NEPA school districts are in the bottom eight in the state.
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Most of the data used in the Grading Our Schools analysis are from the 2007-08 school year. The state Department of Education is generally one year behind in collecting and releasing data from the state's 501 school districts.
Because of an even greater lag time in the collection of graduation and attendance statistics, those rates are for the 2006-07 school year.
PSSA scores for the tests taken this spring will be released later this summer.