Officials express concern about School Performance Profile
TOWANDA - At this week's Towanda School Board meeting, Towanda School District administrators expressed concern about the district's 2012-13 School Performance Profile and discussed measures that will be taken to improve the district's profiles in future years.
Towanda Superintendent of Schools Steven Gobble praised Pennsylvania's new School Performance Profile system, which this year replaced the Adequate Yearly Progress designation for evaluating school districts.
The School Performance Profile is "a more comprehensive way of looking at how a school is performing," he said.
While the Adequate Yearly Progress designation was only based on reading and math scores, the profile system also takes into account a school district's performance in other areas, such as science and writing, SAT scores, and the degree to which there are rigorous course offerings at the district's high school, he said.
"I think it is a truer snapshot of what a school district is doing than AYP," he said.
Nevertheless, a school district's School Performance Profile, which includes an "academic performance score" for each of its schools, is not a great way to compare schools in one district to schools in other districts, Gobble said.
People should be very cautious in using the School Performance Profile system and school academic performance scores to compare schools because "the data is so specific and unique to each school, based on its demographics and the programs that are offered (at the school), and the configuration of the school," Gobble said.
As part of the Towanda School District's 2012-13 School Performance Profile, the Towanda Area Elementary School had an academic performance score of 65.4, which is the lowest of any elementary school in Bradford and Sullivan counties.
Towanda Area Junior/Senior High School had an academic performance score of 70.3, which put the school in next-to-last place among high schools and junior/senior high schools in Bradford and Sullivan counties.
The achievement scores in math and reading at Towanda Area Elementary School, which were part of the Towanda School District's 2012-13 School Performance Profile, were low, Gobble said. The school's students scored 56.25 percent proficient or advanced in reading/literature, 66.75 percent proficient or advanced in math, 47.37 percent proficient or advanced in writing, and 77.53 percent proficient or advanced in science.
Andrew Doster, principal of the elementary school, said the categories for student performance that were used in the Adequate Yearly Progress system - Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced - are still in use in the School Performance Profile system. However, in addition to academic achievement, school districts are also being judged on the academic progress that their students are making over time, including the progress of proficient and advanced students.
For example, if the district has students who are "Below Basic, and they continue to grow, we are rewarded for that. But if the students start to slip, we can be penalized for that," he said.
In terms of students' academic growth, "we do an excellent job with Below Basic and Basic students. We have an excellent support system for struggling students. But we have to do a better job of extending learning opportunities for proficient and advanced students," he said.
Doster said he has been working with data over the past several weeks from the School Performance Profile, which was released by the state on Oct. 4.
"We're just starting the process of meeting with teachers ... and talking about what we need to do differently in the classroom," he said.
Referring to Towanda Junior/Senior High School's 70.3 academic performance score, Principal Dennis Peachey said: "I'm not saying I'm pleased with that. I am OK with that."
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a school academic performance score of at least 70 is "acceptable," so Towanda Junior/Senior High School is barely in the "acceptable" range, he said.
But the school is "nowhere near" where it needs to be, in terms of its academic performance score, he said.
Peachey said he is pleased with the junior/senior high school's score of 74.01 percent proficient or advanced in reading/literature.
And the junior/senior high school's score of 75.73 percent proficient or advanced in writing is also "pretty good," although it is based only on testing of a single grade, the eighth grade, he said.
Peachey said he was concerned about the junior/senior high school's score of 50.85 percent proficient or advanced in science/biology, and said the school district will be providing extra tutoring to try to increase the score.
He said he was also concerned about the school's score of 69.21 percent proficient or advanced in mathematics/Algebra I, adding that he was particularly concerned about students' performance on the Algebra I Keystone Exam.
Because the school is being judged on the percentage of the senior class that has scored at least 1550 on the SAT (out of a maximum score of 2400) or at least 22 on the ACT, the school district will try to give every member of the junior class the ACT next year, Peachey said.
"We have to look at (providing) SAT preparation courses" for students, he added.
While the school district does offer SAT preparation, Peachey said he thinks the availability of the prep course will be better promoted next year.
Because the junior/senior high school's academic performance score is also based in part on the percentage of the senior class that has taken the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) or PLAN test during their academic career, the school district plans to make all students take the PSAT "so we don't get whacked for the kids who don't take it," Gobble said.
To improve the district's writing scores, students will be getting writing assignments not just in English class, but in other subjects, such as science, social studies, and math, said Pamela Hosterman, the school district's principal for curriculum.
The school district will start using a new system for teaching writing, the Collins system, and will start training teachers to use it in January, she said.
In addition, the district will be getting an improved system for managing the large amount of test data that has accumulated for each student, which will allow better decisions to be made on what subjects the child should take and what steps should be taken to support the student academically, she said.
It is hoped that the data management system will be in place by the end of January, she said.
The public can view the Towanda School District's School Performance Profile by going to the school district's website, selecting "About TASD," and then clicking on "PA School Performance Profile."
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.