Delaware County Tech rates among Pennsylvania's best

Tyler Lewis and Ciera D'Angelo, in the health-occupations program, practice a transfer from bed to wheelchair.
Tyler Lewis and Ciera D'Angelo, in the health-occupations program, practice a transfer from bed to wheelchair. (DAN HARDY / Staff)
Posted: January 09, 2012

In the region, school districts and schools such as Lower Merion, Tredyffrin/Easttown, Unionville-Chadds Ford, and Philadelphia's Masterman School are widely regarded as among the top public academic achievers in the state.

In the less-noticed area of career and technical education, the region can now boast of a school with a comparable ranking.

Last year, Delaware County Technical High School vaulted to number one in Pennsylvania in student success on a series of end-of-course examinations that gauge achievement in a variety of career programs.

In 2011, 94 percent of students who took the test at the school, which has 950 students at campuses in Folcroft and Aston, passed it. The state's "expected rate" of test achievement - the benchmark for a successful program - is 75 percent. The state average was 77.7 percent.

The school's success is all the more remarkable because its pass rate as late as 2008 was just 53 percent.

In recent years, the program has gotten a fillip of rigor with the use of more assessment data to help students, the infusion of more academic content into technical courses, and better professional staff training, Delaware County Tech administrative director Philip Lachimia said in an interview last week.

The school even established achievement teams whose goal was to get students more engaged in their education, and in doing well on the test, Lachimia said. Taking a page from PSSA examination prep in some schools, they even held pre-test pep rallies and post-test recognition ceremonies.

"What it all added up to is: We created a culture shift that led to everything being focused on student achievement," he said.

In an e-mail, state Education Department spokesman Tim Eller congratulated the school for "this great accomplishment, which shows their commitment to academic success." He added that the school could serve as a model for other career and technical education programs.

For the last 10 years, all public schools in Pennsylvania have had their academic performance rated annually on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the state's academic achievement test.

The state's 86 career and technical education schools, however, use the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute examinations to rate ability in career fields.

The exam is a two-part test, half paper and pencil and half hands-on, which students must pass to complete their course of studies.

A culinary test, for example, would consist of showing mastery of technical terminology and some academic skills such as practical math; in the hands-on part, students would demonstrate food-preparation skills.

Career and technical education programs are not often in the spotlight, but they play an important role in Pennsylvania's public education system. Such programs enroll 67,531 students, mostly in grades 10 to 12, far more than are enrolled in any school district except Philadelphia.

In earlier generations, Lachimia said, career and technology schools, which used to be called vocational technology schools, would prepare students for entry-level jobs. Now, he said, "our emphasis is on preparing students for a sustainable, life-sustaining career," which in many cases includes post high school training.

Traditional programs like cosmetology and automotive technology remain popular, with the subject matter on a higher academic and technical level than before, Lachimia said.

But among the school's most popular programs are medical careers. Students enrolled in those courses take clinical rotations at hospitals, learn anatomy and physiology, and aim for careers in physical therapy, as nurse-practitioners and as doctors.

Students at Delaware County Tech say the school prepares them for the workplace. Taking a break during a health-occupations class, which teaches how to transfer patients from bed to wheelchair as well as effective ways to interact with patients, Tyler Lewis, a junior from the Chichester School District, called it a great experience. Students, he said, help out at a rehabilitation and long-term care facility in Darby Borough, where "we learn a lot."

Said classmate Ciera D'Angelo: "We get both academics and experience; it gets us ready for the future."


Contact staff writer Dan Hardy

at 215-854-2612, dhardy@phillynews.com, or @DanInq on Twitter.

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