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Scores are up again, except for ...

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The School District presented a report to the SRC and the public on its latest test score results on August 12 and highlighted a seventh consecutive year of gains in both reading and math scores on the PSSA exam. However, Superintendent Ackerman focused her remarks on how far the District has to go and on the continuing racial achievement gaps, passing up an opportunity to applaud District teachers, whose union contract expires this month.

Proficiency rates this year, averaging about 3 percentage points better than last year in both reading and math overall, are moving clearly upward in most but not all categories.

One exception is the Tier I empowerment schools, which encompass 23 of the District's lowest-scoring schools (including eight neighborhood high schools). Test scores were essentially flat in this group, despite a major infusion of resources last year. Another apparent exception is 11th graders.

In previous years, the District has released grade-by-grade comparisons (see Chart 2) to the previous year's test scores, but this year they did not. This kind of selective release of test score data has long been a point of frustration for us Notebook reporters. When they leave out some chart they've provided in the past, usually it's covering up not-so-good news. When we pulled up last year's results for comparison purposes, we found that the scores were in fact up in every grade 3-8, but we discovered the results in grade 11 were essentially flat, a fact that was not reported in the presentation to the SRC.

SRC member Heidi Ramirez did ask a question about scores being worse in grade 11, and Superintendent Ackerman responded that students aren't taking the PSSA seriously - but will when it starts counting toward graduation.

Besides the dreadful grade 11 numbers, the other striking news in the grade-by-grade results is good news:  proficiency rates have cracked 60 percent for the first time in two categories: grade 8 reading (62% proficient) and grade 4 math (61% proficient). It's also the first year that more than half the students are proficient in math in every grade from 3 right through 8.

But the continued low scores in grade 11 have got to make you wonder "What does this all mean anyway?"

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Paul Socolar

@PaulSocolar
Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.