The state's Department of Education released performance scores last week for most schools in the state, including schools in Clinton County, and the report cards show local schools missed the mark under the state's new criteria.
The new School Performance Profiles replace "adequate yearly progress" or AYP under the No Child Left Behind federal law. The new profiles are part of the Educator Effectiveness System, a state law enacted in 2012 that applies to districts throughout the state. Under the new system, student performance in various areas, including math, reading, science, and writing, are directly connected to teacher and principal annual performance evaluations.
The score for a specific school is determined by how many students rate proficient or advanced in standardized tests; academic growth based on progress in standardized tests; graduation rate and attendance rate; and performance in advanced placement or college credit courses.
The profile score is based on a total of 100 points. A score of 70 or higher is considered a passing score. For schools in Clinton County, the scores were:
Bucktail High School: 69.9
Central Mountain High School: 71.5
Bucktail Middle School: 70.3
Central Mountain Middle School: 67.2
Dickey Elementary School: 61.6
Liberty-Curtin Elementary School: 65.5
Mill Hall Elementary School: 63.5
Renovo Elementary School: 65
Robb Elementary School: 69.1
Woodward Elementary School: 65.3
Sugar Valley Rural Charter School: 54.6
Keystone Central School District Superintendent Kelly Hastings told The Express on Monday that several factors attributed to the state's performance scores, including new areas in performance assessment, which are writing and science, and the fact that PDE's assessment is new and unfamiliar.
She also noted that the agency was altering the assessment right up until the scores were released. Specifically, at the last minute, PDE decided not to include data regarding promotions, which Hastings said knocked scores down by at least two percentage points at each school in the district.
"You have to remember this is a brand new system in terms of how this data is now being calculated ... and so, to me, that means this data is essentially baseline. It gives you a starting point," Hastings said.
Moving forward, Hastings said it is evident the district will need to focus on writing as schools' scores ranged between 31 and 55 percent.
"What happened is the question and what do we need to do to boost those scores," Hastings said. "We have to look at the writing assessments by building, by classroom and by student and say, 'where did the issues come about?'"
Hastings compared the new assessment to a driver's test. The first time a candidate takes a driver's test they may fail as they did not see the course in advance. However, the second time the candidate takes the test, they are better prepared for the assessment, she said.
"When you go back again, what do you know now? I know what the course is, I know what the expectations are - now I can go and I can take it," Hastings said.
Hastings said the district can improve scores by focusing on students who perform well as the Department of Education expects those students to improve year to year. Hastings noted that a student does not grow a set amount each year, instead student improvement fluctuates.
"We have to figure out what kinds of instructional things we need to do to move things forward," she said. "The reality is that this is a new game and so we need to know how to function within that.
"We need to understand this new system and then understand what does that mean in terms of what we do in the classroom."
Hastings also referenced the Oct. 5 news article in The Express, which highlighted the district's 47 percent of low-income students as research shows economically disadvantaged students tend not to perform as well as other students.
"These scores that you see in front of you ... are to some degree that article in practice. It's not an excuse, it's a reality," Hastings said.
Additionally, as part of academic achievement assessment, the state looks at SAT and ACT performance. The state considers a student "college ready" if a student scores a 1,550 or higher on the SAT. The highest score possible is 2,400. At Bucktail High School, only 27 percent of students who took the exam reached the state's threshold. At Central Mountain, only 38 percent hit the mark.
Also, under the new assessment, schools can earn "extra credit" for student performance in AP and college-level courses as well as PSAT participation. Hastings said the district will look at these areas for overall improvement.
Overall, Hastings said she is optimistic about the district's scores.
"For me the glass is half full. I see that this is baseline information," she said. "I really have a lot of faith and confidence in our staff, in our administration, in our community, and most importantly in our kids. I'm kind of relieved that it's out because now we know where things are going. Now we can move forward and I feel very confident that this is a team that wants to do that and wants to do well for the kids."
Hastings and Director of Curriculum Terry Murty discussed the preliminary results with the school board Thursday night.
At the meeting, Murty said rural and poor school districts are at a disadvantage under the new system in part due to having too few students. For example, at Bucktail High School, the state said the school had an "insufficient sample" to calculate the percent of students scoring competent or advanced on industry standards-based assessments, including exams for technical education programs. The state also said the school had an "insufficient sample" to calculate the percentage of seniors who scored well on at least one Advanced Placement exam. If there had been a sufficient sample, the school could have earned extra points toward its overall score.
Murty told the board the district will have to alter instruction to ensure students will perform well under the new state standards.
"It's about knowing the test, knowing the standards and teaching that to the students," Murty said.
At the meeting, board Director Wayne Koch raised concerns regarding state mandated standardized tests, saying there is less emphasis on a student's ability to demonstrate a skill.
"I have a problem with the idea that we're teaching the children to take the test ... They're going to be skilled test takers and won't know a damn thing about anything else. I'm bothered by that," Koch said.
Sugar Valley Rural Charter School CEO Logan Coney could not be reached for comment.
Parents and students can take a closer look at the scores at paschoolperformance.org.