Local districts react to state school profiles

When the state Department of Education recently released its new PA School Performance Profile, which gives each individual school building a score out of 100 points, local school district superintendents said it will be a useful tool but also cautioned the public from using it to compare buildings and districts.

“The score is so unique to each school’s data that it’s incomparable,” said Daphne Ross, Montgomery Area School District superintendent.

The state uses a calculation – which includes academic performance, academic growth, and other factors such as attendance and promotion rate – to create a score each year for each individual school building. Unlike the annual yearly progress, or AYP, rating that previously was used, the school profile only will give individual schools scores, not the collective district.

County superintendents explained that since schools can differ in many ways, one truly can’t compare school buildings effectively using the state profile scores.

Dr. Don Adams, Williamsport Area School District superintendent, went further to explain it by noting that this year’s scores for his district are based on a kindergarten through fifth grade configuration, but next year’s will be from a kindergarten through third grade configuration. The district reconfigured its grades over the summer.

Throughout the county, districts use several grade configurations, which makes it difficult to get a true comparison since different data is used on each, the superintendents said.

Michael Pawlik, East Lycoming School District superintendent, added that the score only calculates certain aspects of each school, not the overall picture.

“Our schools are more than a number,” he said.

“It’s one very small piece of the great things that are going on in our schools,” added Dr. Mark Stamm, South Williamsport Area School District superintendent.

Dr. Portia Brandt, Muncy School District superintendent, explained that smaller districts could be at a disadvantage with the scores. She explained that one child could significantly alter the performance score.

The superintendents were pleased that the score does include the state Value Added Assessment System, which measures growth of students each year. Stamm added that this was a “dramatic improvement” over other state measurements.

Ross added that the growth aspect also allows the focus to be pushed back onto all students, and not just those struggling to meet proficiency in state assessments.

When asked how districts will use the profile scores, Stamm said it gives districts a “snapshot” of how they are doing and it can be used to continue improving.

“It’s a really nice internal tool,” he said.

Robert Grantier, Loyalsock Township School District superintendent, said that, for the most part, the score told administrators and teachers where their strengths and weakness were – something that they already knew.

Dr. Timothy Bowers, Montoursville Area School District superintendent, added that at a time when budgets are shrinking, it creates a need for priorities to be set and scrutinized.

“When it comes time to cutting it is tough to stay ahead of the curve,” he said.

Many superintendents said they weren’t surprised by their scores, as they’ve been preparing for the release of them.

With so many changes coming in education – from Keystone exams to the school profile scores to a new teacher evaluation – superintendents said they will not alter programs in order to better their scores if it doesn’t benefit the students.

Stamm explained that only by consistently offering quality programs will students succeed, not by altering to meet state measurements.

He continued by giving the example of the promotion rate score. He explained that if the parents, teachers and administrators believe it is in the best interest of a student to repeat a grade level then that is what the district will do, although it could hurt their school profile in the future.

Ross said that implementing the school profile could take three to five years. It will continue to evolve, Pawlik said, adding that there have been factors that will be included in the coming years that have been left out this year.

“The only thing that’s going to be consistent is change,” Stamm said.

But the superintendents also stressed that they don’t compare each other as they continue to work together to give all county students the best education they can. They explained that they lean on each other during much of the year for advice and thoughts.

“We feel all kids in Lycoming County matter,” Ross said.

Richard Emery, Jersey Shore Area School District superintendent, could not be reached for this story.