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PSSA scores climb for 9th straight year

By Paul Socolar on Jun 27, 2011 07:46 PM

The School District's streak of consecutive years of rising state test scores has grown to nine, with preliminary results released Monday showing modest overall gains of 2-3 percent in reading and math on the PSSA exam, with gains at nearly every grade level.

Overall, 59 percent of students are now proficient in math and 52 percent in reading.

Officials are touting the improvements at the District's first six Promise Academies, where proficiency rates increased by 10 points in math and six points in reading, far above the District average.

The news was not so good at Empowerment Schools, which in 2010 outpaced the District in test score gains and last fall implemented a new literacy curriculum and textbook series. Math scores at these chronically low-scoring schools climbed by just over 1 point and reading scores were essentially flat.

The District published a detailed summary of the trends in different grades and subjects and for different demographic groups. Other than 8th grade reading scores, which dropped four points, all other grades were trending up in both reading and math.

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Comments (34)

Submitted by Anony (not verified) on June 27, 2011 10:52 pm

So it took them 10 years to adequately indoctrinate students how to take standardized tests. How impressive!!

Submitted by SocialStudies (not verified) on June 27, 2011 10:33 pm

Great, now Ackerman is going to use that to justify using Promise Academies.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 6:59 am

Not if the gains were that different from "empowerment" schools.

Submitted by MacMaven (not verified) on June 28, 2011 7:30 am

You're right. If the gains were less than or equal to those of Empowerment schools, then Promise Academies are proven to be just a colossal waste of money and resources. Even if their scores are greater than Empowerments, there would need to be a significant difference to justify the extremely large expense.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2011 10:53 pm

So why not layoff teachers if students are finally making progress?

Submitted by Duh (not verified) on June 28, 2011 4:53 pm

Why not KEEP teachers if students are making progress?

Submitted by laid off teacher (not verified) on June 28, 2011 8:47 pm

I should have written the word sarcasm, sorry.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2011 11:23 pm

Has anyone heard any updated information with regards to the layoff situation? Have they decided which 174 teachers are going to keep their jobs?

Submitted by Anonny (not verified) on June 27, 2011 11:28 pm

Principals were sent an (allegedly) updated layoff list today. They were also given instructions about how to proceed with site selection.

Submitted by Teacher (not verified) on June 28, 2011 2:54 pm

I have been on special assignment at my school for the past two years and received a layoff notice back when. I was called by my principal on Monday morning and was told that I had been saved and was now able to be site selected. Great feeling but was very surprised to see that something actually went through...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 30, 2011 1:56 am

You've been with the district 2 years? So is your recall final or pending the arbitration? Those teachers who are 'not laid off' pending the outcome of arbitration, can they site select also?

Submitted by Teacher (not verified) on June 30, 2011 10:43 am

I think its final but that's a good question. I did not ask that. Do you mean the Promise Academy teachers? I believe they can site select and everyone else in the district is able to too.

Submitted by Inspired_Apple on June 28, 2011 1:00 am

Someone needs to ask the district for the data on the student's SAT scores & create a batch report for them. I'd be surprised if the "substantial rise" in test scores *ALSO* reflect the nationally calibrated test.

SAT: generally not their instructional teacher as proctor / score reflects the STUDENT'S life [not the school, district or financial status of a large organization] = fair estimate for actual, raw data that reflects student achievement compared to the NATION.

PSSA: the teachers proctor the exams, the tests are 70% identical to the year BEFORE (same exact questions and answers with very little differentiation year to year -- DO you think that's accidental?!) and the tests do not count for the students at a collegiate level...on ANY level = is it easy to cheat? I won't say it is: all I know is that the district was already caught in an elaborate display of cheating on these tests the past PSSA.

It's almost impossible to cheat on the SAT. I'm a proctor and SAT tutor. ***The SAT happens to be the national test that I know well enough to speak on behalf of understanding the testing. The NOCTI test (The National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) is also a nationwide test that many of our students take and count towards a certification. THESE are the tests that need to be analyzed.

Politicians talk about PSSA scores: they change the financial status of a school.
Educators talk about the SAT (NOCTI) scores: they change the financial status of a child.

But "it's all about the kids", right?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 28, 2011 7:11 am

Also, could someone answer this. I have been retired for a couple of years. Do the other grades still take the Tera Nova tests? If so, what are their results? How about the NAEP exams?

Also, did the state present results separately for the multiple choice items and the constructed response items on the PSSA? The constructed response results rely on Det. of Ed subjective scoring.

The whole state PSSA system needs to be questioned and scrutinized. There are serious issues with the validity and reliability of the PSSA's because we teach the test all over the state. We need to have that public discussion.

As a reading specialist who has formerly ran a diagnostic-presecriptive high school reading program for 20 years, I have not found the PSSA's to be particularly challenging or a particularly good reading test and I have my doubts about the quality of the PSSA's.

I still read about complaints from colleges that our students are not prepared to succeed in college. I also hear complaints from teachers that our students think reading is reading to find specific answers and not for total comprehension and in depth understanding and analysis of the author's discourse. Informal reading assessemnt performed by a trained practitioner is still the most valid form of assessment of reading ability. That will never change because standardized tests are limited in their effectiveness to measure reading ability. Reading ability is just too complex and there are so many psycho-cognitive variables.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on June 28, 2011 8:07 am

Rich--Terra Novas were scrapped a couple of years ago due to cost. I think first and second grade may still take them. The PSSA scores are not broken down into multiple choice or CRs--just basic skills. I agree with you about PSSAs--not a good indicator of much at all except how to pass PSSAs. We would do much better preparing kids for college and work with authentic reading and inquiry-based programs.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 8:43 am

This year Terra Nova were canned for 1st and 2nd grade - they were given predictive tests from McGraw Hill - just like 3 - 11th graders.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 2:16 pm

Your schools have access to CSV files which allow you to break down scores by MC and CR.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on June 28, 2011 2:48 pm


Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on June 28, 2011 8:12 am

Sorry, Rich--forgot to comment on NAEP. It is still being piloted in Philly. They came and administered tests to some of my eighth graders this year. Some kids took math, some reading, some reading, some science. We have not seen results yet. But not every kid took them.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 28, 2011 9:42 am

Thanks to both of you for the responses. I am still interested in all of the issues of professional reading assessment. It seems you can take a reading teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the reading teacher. I hope the new generation keeps the discussion alive.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 10:07 am

To answer your question about multiple-choice vs constructed response results being returned...I've kicked around some of this stuff's what I know...

The testing company employs teachers who evaluate based on some standard set of rubrics/guidance - I also want to say they have a facility in Pittsburg that uses PA teachers to read the PSSA but I'm not certain. I don't know how many readers review each response..maybe there is someone else who has done this or knows of someone who has been a reader? It's a pretty typical process when compared to other subjective test grading though...nothing about PA that is different from other states from what I've heard.

PA school districts receive a file back from the testing company that has, among other things, results on the multiple-choice items and the constructed-response items separately so you can see how a student scored on each area. Additionally, you can see how students performed on content standards.

I agree that it's not the best way to analyze student performance for those that aim towards improving instruction and that it is not an effective way to measure reading ability at a granular level...I never used state standardized tests in the classroom to tell me where my students were in their reading...there are many other tests out there that I found more useful.

I think of PSSA tests more like a sorting machine rather than an measuring instrument...well suited to separating huge groups of schools and students into manageable groups but not supremely effective in informing the practitioners what to do with those groups once you've identified them.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 28, 2011 11:25 am

Thanks for your comment. Your insight is helpful. I agree with you about what you say about your instructional decision-making. You must be a really good teacher.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 7:36 am

God knows I have major issues with Ackerman, the emphasis on test taking, and how things are run here in Philly, but kudos to us for another year of PSSA increases. I spend too much time reading some of the anti SDP and anti PFT vitriol on those people who call Philly a "black hole," where we are just "throwing away money" need to be fair and acknowledge that according to the PSSA, 9 straight years of improvement is at least some sort of proof that we are making some progress.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 8:36 am

I agree the comments on are annoying to racist and classist. That said, Improvement in test scores is because of what has happened in schools - some legit and some not legit. Also, when everything focuses on text prep, there will be incremental improvement. Again, PSSA preparation is not college preparation.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 11:17 am

Teach to the TEST !!! Is that where we are now in Education???? You could train monkeys to take the test too. It's an embarrassment but that's whee we are politically.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on June 28, 2011 12:35 pm

Anyone else see the "spin" in presenting data anecdotally?

11th grade scores have been the problem area forever, consistently lower by any measure than the 8th grade scores, and reporting for this grade seems the least clear. There are but 2 references to 11th grade in the summary report:

39.8% scoring P/A Math
9.5% reduction below basic in math

When you omit something, like reading scores and achievement gaps. there may be a reason.

And we know, don't we, that the empowerment gains, again not grade referent, of 0.6 to 1.6, are statistically insignificant, and if reporting multi-grade results, may mask weakness in one.

To justify the extraordinary investment for unproven programs, these very partial "results" are far from convincing.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on June 28, 2011 1:17 pm

Major gaps in the summary. You are right--very few comments about grade 11. The Promise Academy results certainly do not seem to justify the millions of extra dollars they cost. I would love to see the breakdown for each individual Promise Academy.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on June 28, 2011 3:19 pm

In the past, the kind of real data existed in pieces, but was never available to the public. Seems an area that could do with some light of day.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 3:44 pm

As in everything else centering around the Queen, there is no light except when she needs to congratulate herself for some deed that never occurred.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 28, 2011 3:08 pm

You won't unless Hackerman leaves.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 29, 2011 5:01 pm

Teach to the Test !! Teach to the Test !! Teach to the Test!!---Complete Foolishness, it isn't education, it's training. Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 29, 2011 5:16 pm

The Promise Academies are working. Let's make more!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 29, 2011 8:17 pm

Right !!--A good joke on your part.

Submitted by Raheem (not verified) on June 29, 2011 10:46 pm

What are Roosevelt Middle School's scores, I wonder. 99% proficiency in reading and math?

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