Realignment a 'game changer' for district
TROY - Going into the 2011-12 school year, the Troy Area School District knew it was facing an uphill battle with the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests.
And when the PSSA results were released recently by the state Department of Education, the district's concerns were proven valid.
The district and its three schools were all placed on "warning" status after not achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), according to the department's Academic Achievement Report for the 2011-12 school year.
The closing of two schools, Mosherville Elementary School and Troy Elementary Center East, in spring 2011 was the beginning of the problem. The school board was in a financial bind, and approved the closures because it was dealing with severe state budget cuts from Gov. Tom Corbett.
The move caused a realignment of the remaining schools and, in effect, created three "new" schools: W.R. Croman Primary School, Troy Intermediate School, and Troy Area Junior-Senior High School.
"The new configuration of schools was a game changer in terms of an AYP report," said Eileen Sparduti, the district's coordinator of student academic programs.
"We knew we were going to have our work cut out for us."
As a result of the realignment, each of the new buildings had no historical data of student achievement, which hurt the district in terms of achieving AYP.
"When a school building has historical data, there are about eight different measures that can be used to determine if students are making progress," Sparduti said.
However, with no such data due to the realignment, the schools had less evaluation tools to achieve AYP. Sparduti said the number went down from eight to three.
One such evaluation tool that depends on historical data, called "Safe Harbor," couldn't be used.
With "Safe Harbor," the district can achieve AYP if the students are proven to be doing better than the previous year.
"There was no data from the previous year," she said.
Sparduti is confident that the district could have been in better shape in terms of achieving AYP, had the old configuration of schools been in place.
She said the district, meanwhile, is hopeful that things can improve.
"We are always in a continuous state of looking for improvement," she said.
"If we can demonstrate that we are making appropriate growth next year, based on this year's performance, that will be in our favor."
Not helping the situation was the fact that the AYP targets went up again - and they will increase this school year as well.
"We are all going to be in the same boat. The targets go up again."
The AYP targets for the 2011-12 school year were math, 78 percent, and reading, 81 percent, said Tim Eller, press secretary for the state department of education. By contrast, the AYP targets for the 2010-11 school year were math, 67 percent, and reading, 72 percent, he said.
According to the department, AYP is "a key measure of school performance established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001."
The department stated that it "evaluates all Pennsylvania public schools and districts annually for Adequate Yearly Progress based on the results of the spring PSSA testing cycle and measures of participation, attendance, and graduation."
By 2014, the AYP targets get really tough - the targets go up to 100 percent, and every student is expected to score proficient or better, Sparduti said.
What makes matters worse is that the No Child Left Behind Law is three years late in being reauthorized, Sparduti noted.
"The original drafters of the bill never intended it to run out this far without being reauthorized."
If the law would have been reauthorized, Sparduti said, it's possible that different ways could have been put in place for all school districts, including Troy, to achieve AYP, rather than just hitting percentage targets.
People looking for detailed information about their school district's performance can visit the state Department of Education website. Troy has a NCLB report on its website at http://www.troyareasd.org. Clicking on the report will connect readers to the appropriate section on the state Department of Education website for more information about Troy.
Sparduti said there was some good news.
"Our eleventh grade had the best reading performance ever, and that's not easy to do. That was impressive. We're really pleased with that."
In addition, she said Troy Intermediate School and the district, as a whole, made AYP in math because students exceeded the math target. She said the intermediate school did especially well in math.
"Overall, the scores weren't that bad," she said. "Considering all the changes we faced, we were pleased with our performances overall; we just got caught in that hard spot with the targets going up and not having that historical data and all those evaluation measures in our favor."
As for challenges, she noted that students found themselves in new buildings, and teachers were teaching grade levels that they hadn't taught before, or in a long time.
Each grade level in grades 3-8 - where the bulk of the PSSA data comes from - had at least one teacher providing instruction on something they never taught before, or hadn't taught in a long time, she added.
Sparduti said the schools were reconfigured because the district was dealing with a $2.5 million deficit in spring 2011, and the district was doing "the best it could" in dealing with the funding cut. The funding cut also meant the loss of supplemental instructional services to help kids who were struggling to meet proficiency.
With the realigning of the schools, the district faced an unusual and "really unique situation," she said.
She noted that the district had achieved AYP for about the past eight years, until the realignment happened.
This school year, things will change.
The district will have historical data, which should help in achieving AYP, Sparduti said.
"We're going to continue to build. It (the student scores) is a new baseline for us, and it's a good baseline. It's a good place to start again."
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251: email: firstname.lastname@example.org.