PHILIPSBURG — Confused parents, and Philipsburg-Osceola board members, voiced concerns about a recent state ranking that said some elementary school students have test scores at the bottom of a statewide curve.
Last month, administrators were heralding the achievements at Osceola Mills Elementary as the best in the district after receiving the raw scores from the 2012 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
Barely a week later, they were reeling after the state released a report placing the school among the 414 worst performing schools in the state.
OME was the only P-O school to make that list, qualifying students for the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, a voucher program that theoretically lets students go to private or parochial schools on the public dime.
The confusion, according to spokeswoman Dena Cipriano, comes partly from the years in question. The Opportunity Scholarship ranking is not based on this year’s test scores, but those from 2010, and OME still achieved the state’s goal of adequate yearly progress despite the ranking.
The list is also a new report, leaving some to wonder just where schools fell in the past, or thinking that their school has suddenly fallen below average.
P-O Superintendent Stephen Benson says that is not the case.
“It’s not like the school dropped. It’s moving up.”
OME’s scores have historically been low, but have been steadily improving for years, he said. In the past, the school only achieved AYP based not on straight numbers, but other state-granted parameters, such as growth over the previous year or adjustments based on the number of low-income or special education students.
Now the district is touting the scores at the school as an example of the success of its staff development and efforts to share data and teach across curriculums.
At last month’s meeting, North Lincoln Hill Principal Linda Kline-Shaffer, whose test scores did not reflect the same growth, said she would follow OME’s model in the coming year.
But still, the scores scared some.
Board member Jim Verbeck said there “are no quick answers,” but thinks the problem may be rooted in “teacher morale and educational posture.”
Verbeck has been an opponent of Benson, who has been the subject of frequent open questioning at meetings by board members and the public about what has been called a hostile environment for faculty, something Benson has denied.
Parents, meanwhile, would like teachers held accountable.
“I know you have access. You can get it right down to the classroom,” said Osceola mom Connie Bainey. “If there are two classrooms, and one is succeeding and one is not, how do the parents find out?”
According to board President Stephen Switala, they don’t. The district, he said, is not allowed to make that information public or to discipline a teacher for test scores or use them in evaluations. Not yet, anyway. That is something that the state is changing, Benson said, and in the future, test score performance and accountability will be an important part of teacher evaluations.