When Gregg Paladina took over as superintendent at the Philipsburg-Osceola school district, one of his goals was to see an improvement in student test scores.
On Tuesday, he unveiled early evidence that his first full year at the helm was paying off in that area in at least two of the district’s four schools.
He set a goal for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, the test that is given to elementary students. It measures proficiency in reading and math and is given every spring. Last year, the tests were given before he took the reins as the top administrator. For the 2013-14 school year, he wanted to see a 5 percent increase.
He got more than he had hoped, even after a year when many thought test scores would be negatively affected by the number of snow days that cut into instructional time.
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The 2012-13 results showed 61 percent of P-O elementary students at the proficient or advanced level in reading. In math, 76 percent hit that mark. The best scores came from Philipsburg Elementary.
Early data for the 2013-14 tests were received recently, and Paladina was eager to show it to the school board. The two elementary schools showed advanced or proficient reading numbers coming in at 72 percent — an 11 percent increase. But the real star was Osceola Mills Elementary, which posted a 15 percent jump in positive performance.
Math numbers increased by one notch, to 77 percent.
“I may have set the expectations, but (the faculty) did a lot of work,” Paladina said.
That work included implementing a new language arts curriculum. Different programs were reviewed by teachers and test-driven by the schools for two years before one was picked for full implementation in the last school year. There was also the influence of the Keystones to Opportunity grant that the district received in 2012 to improve literacy with $654,514 over five years.
OME’s increases continued a trend for that building. The school’s test scores in 2011 put it on a list of the lowest-performing schools in Pennsylvania when the state first published that list in the fall of 2012. By February 2013, the 2012 test results had risen enough to get OME off that list. The superintendent and principal at that time said the school had been improving year to year.
Paladina said most of the focus for this year was placed on reading, social studies and science at the elementary level.
The next goal will be to raise the scores at the secondary level, where students take the Keystone assessment. Those tests are administered on a subject-matter basis rather than specific grade levels. If a student takes algebra in eighth grade or 11th grade, the test will be given accordingly rather than testing high school sophomores on material they learned in junior high.
“I just got the Keystone results on Friday,” Paladina told the board Tuesday. He did not discuss specific numbers, saying only, “Based on what I saw, some adjustments need to be made.”
Test scores at the high school have been a sore spot for several years, even if they weren’t required, like the Keystone. The district’s increased emphasis on AP courses and offering of AP tests has met resistance at times from board members and taxpayers disgruntled by low performance.
“We’re not out of the high grass yet,” Paladina said.