By Benjamin Herold and Dale Mezzacappa
The disappointing results on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams are the product of less cheating and tight new test security measures, according to state Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis.
Pennsylvania has released overall and school-by-school results for last spring's PSSA tests.
Statewide, there was a slight increase in the overall percentage of students scoring proficient or above on the test, and about two-thirds of schools were declared to have met their federal learning targets, or "adequate yearly progress" (AYP).
The unfolding story of possible cheating on the 2009 PSSA exam is terrible news. It likely means educators acted unethically. It almost certainly means that the level of trust between the public and schools is even worse than it has been. And it could mean that those who confuse evidence of real learning with standardized test score results will yell even louder about the failings of our schools.
I teach in Philadelphia, have for the past five years. The last four of those years have been at Olney Elementary, a school that has been flagged for suspicious erasure patterns in this report. I can say I have never witnessed any answer erasure in my years there, including 2009. This news saddens me.
I think if you asked them, most teachers would say that in addition to having their students excel in their studies, they would hope that they also feel empowered. In our daily interactions with students and in our lesson planning, we attempt to validate students’ experiences, affirm their identities and build trust in order to forge authentic relationships that allow us to teach them well.
Do we fall short some days? Absolutely. But the intent and the purpose of making real connections with students so that they can make real connections with their learning is there. Lately, I have been grappling with finding the intent and purpose behind the Corrective Reading initiative taking place in classrooms all across our city.
For many parents and community members, the District’s Renaissance Schools plan – a major initiative to transform Philadelphia’s most troubled schools – evokes déjà vu.
The plan proposes to turn around about 30 schools over the next three years by bringing in new leadership from education management organizations (EMOs), charter schools, or teams of District educators.
Even though she wasn't in Philadelphia then, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and her team have apparently learned something from the myriad mistakes made during the city's ill-starred foray into school privatization in 2002.
The School District has stepped up its work around its much-debated Renaissance Schools plan – an initiative to transform chronically failing schools – appointing a 50-member panel to help drive the process.
Dubbed the Renaissance Schools Advisory Board, the group has three subcommittees consisting of educators, business and community leaders, District staff, parents, faith-based representatives, and youth advocates.
The School District released its list of Empowerment Schools Friday, and a quick review indicates that no schools (except for one that closed) were removed from last year's list of 85 while 11 were added.
That makes 95 such schools, all designated as "low-performing" and targeted for intensive interventions.
Now part of the back-to-school, end-of-summer routine, the state's 2009 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results for schools were released last week.
The number of District schools meeting their AYP targets was 118, compared to 113 last year. Also up slightly was the number in Corrective Action II status (for five or more years of missing targets) - 76, eight more than last year. Charter schools did significantly better than District schools this year, with almost three-fourths meeting their targets.
One story that hasn't been written is that the District and 16 of its schools are now categorized by the state as in "Corrective Action II, 7th year."