Grading Our Schools: Line Mtn. focuses on individual improvement
MANDATA - According to standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Line Mountain Junior-Senior High School did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing in 2011-12.
According to the standards set by Dave Campbell, PSSA is unfair.
Campbell, the district superintendent, said the tests should be a tool to help a district - and its students - improve, but not an "end-all, be-all."
Success can be measured in many other ways.
"At Line Mountain, if a kid goes from 'below basic' standards to 'basic,' that is something we will celebrate," he said. "At times, the PSSA tests are unfair to students."
Campbell said the standardization of the tests is the crux of the problem.
"We are not only trying to up the bar with our students, but you also have the test writers upping the test as well," he said. "So if both sides continually go up, how can you ever really catch up?"
Numbers and emotions
Out of all public school districts that serve Northumberland County students, Line Mountain did better than all except Danville, and was tied with Southern Columbia Area for 2011-12, in meeting or exceeded the state average in 18 out of 21 categories, according to Times-Shamrock Newspapers annual Grading Our Schools report. The two categories in which Line Mountain did not meet or exceed the average was in seventh- and eighth-grade reading. (See the bubble chart.)
According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Line Mountain Junior-Senior High School failed AYP in its 11th-grade testing in reading, particularly with overall students, those in special education and those who are economically disadvantaged.
That may be, but Campbell, like other educators, cited the difficulty of meeting the AYP proficiency levels, which are climbing each year toward what is to become a 100 percent requirement by 2014.
"With a school district of our size, if you have two or three students who aren't making proficiency, your average drops down below the 90 percent mark," Campbell said.
He said other variables come into play that educators can't address.
"You may have students that will always panic over taking a test. That's a phenomenon they won't get over," Campbell said. "You also have students who may have had a fight with their best friend that day, or broke up with someone, or had a bad night at home. Those are things that can affect students and we have no control over that."
Judging over time
A proactive way Line Mountain looks at the results is judging them "longitudinally."
"We look at the improvement that comes from year to year," Campbell said. "It's more shocking to see a student not make proficiency, and their teachers knowing they can do the work, through the tools that we use in the district. That is when we dig a little deeper and see what is going on."
"What this district and its teachers will do is sit down, analyze all the numbers and look at the improvement we've made from 2012 to 2013 and see where we need to focus our efforts," Campbell said.
He said, with all elementary teachers under one roof beginning this school year, it will be easy to share ideas on what lesson plans will be used across the board to help improve test scores.
"There is a great level of professionalism with our teachers," he said about things like sharing practices with colleagues. "It takes away the variables of not following a common educational system."
Campbell said he's not completely against the PSSA tests.
"I like the PSSAs; I think they are good tests," he said. "But I don't like the fact that they make it the end-all, be-all standard and put such a high stakes price on it."
Let the state look at AYP and proficiency. Campbell said he and his staff will continue to look at individual improvement.
"We have a great group of teachers here, and we have a great group of students," Campbell said. "Working together, everyone will become better and help to create lifelong learners, which is every educator's goal."