Students in two Mercer County school districts didn’t make the grade set by the state for student achievement to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.
But it’s no reason to go into “panic mode,” Sharon City School District Superintendent John Sarandrea said.
Sharon and Farrell Area School District were those that didn’t meet the muster of the law.
This is the first time Sharon hasn’t met “adequate yearly progress,” the term coined by the state to describe schools that meet proficiency standards in math and reading on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
“We value the scores, and we value the data,” Sarandrea said, but he emphasized the results are a “one day snapshot” of student performance.
A former basketball coach, Sarandrea used a sports analogy to explain the results.
Last year, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter recorded his 3,000th hit, a mark that attracted the attention of even non-sports fans. But the day before he reached the mark he went hitless in five at-bats.
“An unimpressive day, indeed, causing many people who had watched him for the first time to question what all the fanfare was about,” Sarandrea wrote in a letter sent home to parents of students at Sharon’s C.M. Musser Elementary.
The next day Jeter went 5 for 5 and his 3,000th hit was a home run.
“The moral of the story: We should not pass judgment and apply labels based on one competition or one test on one day of one year; not in athletics and certainly not in academics,” Sarandrea wrote.
While Sharon didn’t meet the numbers set by the state for 2012 - 78 percent proficient in math and 81 percent proficient in reading - the district is still doing its job of educating students, he said.
“A one day snapshot is a one day snapshot,” Sarandrea said. “I’m not making excuses. We always want to improve; we always want to get better.”
But state funding cuts of $4 million over the last two years combined with a bar that rose 10 percentage points on the PSSA tests wasn’t a recipe for success.
“It’s the recipe for a perfect storm,” Sarandrea said.
“We took the seventh-largest cut (in state funding) of all school districts in Pennsylvania,” he said. “That’s substantial.”
Tutoring programs the district had in place have ended and class sizes have increased, he said.
“And they raised the standards,” he said. “That’s going to impact student achievement.”
Sharon’s poor showing, “greatly disappoints me on many fronts” but it wasn’t surprising, Sarandrea said.
“This should have been anticipated by everybody,” he said.
Statewide, just 75.7 percent of students performed at or above grade level in math; 71.9 percent of students performed at or above grade level in reading; 73.2 percent of students performed at or above grade level in writing; and 61.4 percent of students performed at or above grade level in science.
Scores across the state dropped, and Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis attributed it to a crackdown after a probe revealed student answer sheets were altered to improve test scores in some districts.
But attributing the fall to this is “an insult to every kid, educator and parent,” Sarandrea said, noting the scores fell because the state spent less on education.
“Funding does matter,” he said.
Farrell Superintendent Lora Adams-King agreed.
“I think there is a direct correlation” between state funding cuts and lower test scores, Adams-King said.
“There are many schools that usually make it that didn’t,” she said. “It’s disappointing. The targets were raised, and we didn’t make it.”
Although Sharon and Farrell were the only districts that failed to make AYP, 17 of the 38 individual schools in the county didn’t make the grade.
Schools are evaluated on how they meet targets in subgroups like sex, race and economic status that vary from district to district.
Some schools have fewer. West Middlesex High School has 8 target areas, the fewest of the schools in Mercer County, while others, including Musser Elementary and Sharon Middle School, must meet targets in 21 different areas.
Schools placed on warning, meaning they failed to meet one or more AYP targets are: Artman Elementary School, Case Avenue Elementary School, Commodore Perry Junior Senior High School, Greenville Junior Senior High School, Grove City Area Middle School, Hillview Elementary School, Lakeview High School, Mercer Area Elementary School, Mercer Area Senior High School, Musser Elementary School, Sharon High School, West Hill Elementary School, West Middlesex Area High School.
East Elementary School in Greenville and Sharon Middle School were both listed in School Improvement II, meaning they hadn’t met AYP standards for three consecutive years.
Farrell Area Elementary School/Lower Middle School was in the first year of Corrective Action II and Farrell Area High School/Upper Middle School was in its fourth year with that designation.
The district will meet its targets next year, Adams-King said.
“We do not intend for Farrell Area School District to not make AYP ever again,” Adams-King said. “Changes to make that (happen) have already begun.”
It’s a tall order to fill, considering the proficiency rates will increase from 78 percent proficient this year to 89 percent proficient in math and from 81 to 91 percent proficient in reading.
“The board made a commitment to student achievement by not furloughing anyone,” she said.
That has a cost, and the superintendent noted that because the district didn’t make cuts to its educational staff it will be “$1 million in debt by July 1.”
That was the price the district paid to “fulfill our mission to educate students,” Adams-King said.
“We will make it,” she said. “We’re in better shape, and we’ll jump higher.”
Sarandrea refrained from making any such promises.
“We’re always looking to improve,” he said.
But the idea that 100 percent of students will test “proficient” in 2014 won’t happen, he said.
“It’s not realistic,” Sarandrea said. “Can you get 100 percent of anything?”
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