Last week, the state Department of Education posted the results of standardized tests. Centre County schools are now examining the results.
The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment is the yardstick used to measure student — and school — performance. It is administered to kids in third through eighth grade in English and math, and kids in fourth and eighth grades in science.
The Keystone is the secondary level test, administered to students in algebra, biology and literature.
“Standardized tests help identify success and needs in students and schools so they can prioritize and plan, as well as meet federal and state reporting requirements,” Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said in a statement. “However, high-stakes testing does not tell the full story and the department is taking several actions to better communicate student progress in our schools. Beginning this school year, the time required to take the PSSAs is reduced by an average of two days, allowing students and teachers to focus more on learning, and in future years the department’s Future Ready PA Index will create a more accurate reporting system for school districts.”
The state says there is a “slight increase” in overall PSSA English and math numbers over 2016, with those language arts improvements posting consistently for third year in a row in the third grade.
Keystone scores for first-time test-takers were called “relatively flat” compared to last year statewide, but fewer kids took retests. The algebra test, for example, can be taken at the end of the year after algebra I or until junior year, with the best score being the one recorded and reported with statewide data.
The Department of Education reported 7,000 fewer algebra retests in 2017, about 6,000 fewer biology and almost 3,000 fewer literature. Banked 11th grade results slid in all three tests statewide.
In Centre County, scores fell overwhelmingly in that advanced and proficient end of the spectrum on both tests.
Although districts are still analyzing data and complete information about where scores improved or decreased is not yet available, only 10 of the 31 schools that take the PSSA reported scores that tipped toward the basic or below basic end of the range. None of the five high schools that took the Keystone had a majority of students performing in that area.
“We are always seeking to improve,” Philipsburg-Osceola Superintendent Gregg Paladina said.
P-O posted 66.4 percent of its Keystone students showing advanced or proficient in algebra, 67.8 percent in biology and 68.8 in literature. In PSSAs, there was a struggle with math and science numbers at the middle school, but all three elementary schools skewed positive. Paladina said scores are up over last year at the middle school.
State College Area School District is the only one of the five districts where every school showed a majority of students in the advanced or proficient category. But that doesn’t mean all students are achieving at the same level, or that the district doesn’t have specific challenges.
“In all of our schools, we see our success evidenced in the growth of each student,” State College Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said. “Some of our schools have more unique student learning needs than others.”
O’Donnell cited those unique needs as a problem with standardized tests.
“With that stated, we do know that the experiences our highly trained faculty and staff provide students focus on evidencing growth for each student. We monitor each student’s mathematic achievements and growth utilizing multiple measures, including an assessment that provides much more respectful tasks to students than the state’s standardized test. This assessment better informs our teachers than a one-time per year state test,” he said.
Science PSSA scores appeared to be a high point in many districts. The only school to post no basic or below basic scores in a category was Bald Eagle Area’s Mountaintop Elementary in science. BEA’s Howard and Port Matilda elementary schools showed no below basic scores in the same test.
Howard also showed no below basic scores in English.
At Bellefonte Area School District, science was also a bright spot for Benner Elementary, where 94.9 percent of students scored advanced or proficient, just 5.1 percent tested at the basic level and none of the students came in below basic.