State assessment scores show drop in reading and math proficiency

ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Schools Superintendent William R. Hite said the district is "encouraged" by students' growth in 2013, as meager as it may be.
ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Schools Superintendent William R. Hite said the district is "encouraged" by students' growth in 2013, as meager as it may be.
Posted: October 07, 2013

THE PHILADELPHIA School District yesterday released its results for the state's top standardized test - the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA - and the news wasn't pretty.

The scores marked the second year in a row that the overall percentage of students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on math and reading exams were down, across all grade levels and subgroups.

The district said average math proficiency scores fell four points from 51 percent to 47 percent, according to the district. Reading proficiency rates dipped 2.5 percentage points, from 44.8 to 42.3.

Keystone Exams - designed to measure students' proficiency in certain subjects - were also administered for the first time last year to 11th-graders. The rate of students passing the test's algebra I portion was 39.8 percent; for biology, the rate was 20.3 percent; and in literature, the rate was 53.4 percent.

Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, with three children in public school, was disappointed by the results.

"Eighty percent of students failing biology and 60 percent failing algebra I . . . That's major," Gym said, who said she fears for next year's scores.

Susan Gobreski, director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, said the results were not surprising, since last year "our students were experiencing a round of program cuts, diminished access to supports, a transition to a new superintendent."

The district, furthermore "was focused on how to make cuts, how to plan for the next round of cuts [and] whether or not standardized test results were valid," Gobreski said, referring to an ongoing investigation into alleged PSSA cheating.

But district officials discovered some positive news in the test results.

Of the 186 individual schools that took PSSAs earlier this year, 46 showed an increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading. Twenty-five schools, or 13.4 percent, demonstrated a jump in math.

There was evidence, district officials say, that 169 schools, 90.9 percent, met or exceeded the standard for Pennsylvania Academic Growth in reading. In math, 152 schools or 81.7 percent, met or exceeded the same standard.

"Despite the many obstacles our schools faced, we are encouraged that students demonstrated growth in 2013," said Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. in a statement. "Nonetheless, these results are disappointing and do not represent the capabilities of our students. They serve as a call to action to focus our attention on effective instruction, high-quality school leadership and intensive supports for all students."

The state Department of Education also went live with the Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles on its website, which offers up data on schools around the state, including the latest PSSA and Keystone Exam scores.

The information is incomplete, however. The state says that's because schools incorrectly collected data from students.

As a result this lapse, 626 schools across the state - at least 49 here in Philadelphia - opted to fix their data rather than submit it now. Until then, their academic data will be absent from the site.

Melanie Harris, chief information officer with the district, said the mixup centered on inconsistent answers to a question in the front of the test booklet: "Is this an end-of-year course for you?"

"We thought it was important enough to correct the information and send it back to the state," Harris said. Philadelphia and other districts will have a "corrective window" later this month to transmit the updated data. The state said the remaining scores will be released in mid-December.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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