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PSSA exams become graduation requirement in JT district

Published March 27. 2012 05:01PM

The Jim Thorpe Area School Board adopted the 11th grade PSSA math and reading tests as a graduation requirement, starting with the current 11th grade class.

The school district created and updated an improvement plan to help boost PSSA scores. The district had also been discussing and working on a plan for the possibility of 11th grade PSSA reading and math tests as a graduation requirement.

Parents and students had been notified at the beginning of the school year that the PSSA exam might become a graduation requirement. Parents had also been invited to discuss the possibllity at a curriculum committee meeting.

School board director, Randall Smith, stated that he was opposed to passing this requirement this year, but not necessarily opposed to it for next year.

Smith said he felt the decision should be made at the beginning of a school year.

"I think the timing is off," he stated.

"I think all the work the administration and faculty has done preparing students for the PSSA tests is time well spent," he added. "Hopefully we will see the kind of results we are looking for this year."

Dr. Clement McGinley, William Allison, Pearl Downs-Scheckler, Thomas Henry, Dennis McGinley, and Gerald Strubinger voted in favor of the graduation requirement. Randall Smith and John Partenio voted no. Jeremy Melber was absent.

PSSA exams are scored at Basic, Below Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. With the new graduation requirement, 11th grade students must score proficient or advanced in math and reading in order to graduate.

Passing the PSSA math and reading will count as one credit toward graduation requirements. The grade for the PSSA reading and math exam will count as a pass or fail grade and will not impact GPA.

Juniors take the PSSA exam in the spring. If proficient or advanced are not met in the math and reading tests, options to gain proficiency include:

• Completion of class in the content area in the fall of senior year preparing for a retest in the fall. The class will be done during the students Producing Outstanding Determined Students (PODS) period.

• Opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in reading and/or math common core standards during remediation course in fall of senior year.

• Opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in reading and/or math common core standards during remediation course in spring of senior year.

• Opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in reading and/or math common core standards with an online remediation course.

Once proficiency is met in both the reading and math common core standards credit will be awarded to the student.

According to the JTASD PSSA graduation requirement plan the possible exceptions to the requirements include: Students with an Individual Education Program (IEP) at the discretion of IEP team, English Language Learners (ELL) may be exempted also, as well as students new to the district in grade 12 with evidence of passing state test scores in mathematics and reading.

Due to the No Child Left Behind Act, testing for students in grades three through eight, and 11th grade were required. In Pennsylvania, the PSSA's examine the common core standards in reading, math, writing, and science. When students score proficient and advanced in reading and math, this indicates the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) or the districts educational progress.

High school English teacher, Trudy Miller said that in preparations for the tests the English department has been reviewing terminology and answering PSSA style questions. They have also done the 4-Sight exams which are practice PSSA exams.

Miller stated that everyone has been working very hard and she has seen incredible improvement.

"We have taken many measures to inspire, and motivate, and prepare," said Miller.

"We all share the common goal of wanting Jim Thorpe Area High School to rank near the top in PSSA scores," she added.

High school math teacher Michael Spirk talked about how the math department has been preparing. It has a PSSA problem of the day, summer math problems, math lab, peer tutoring, and 4-Sight exams as well.

"We try to teach to the test and give them (the students) the skills they need to carry into their future courses, college, and life," stated Spirk.

Both Miller and Spirk said they were in favor of making the 11th grade PSSA test a graduation requirement, that it could help boost student test scores.

Downs-Scheckler, chairman of the Curriculum Committee said that she listened to both sides, people for the graduation requirement and against, at the committee meeting and had a tough decision to make.

The JTASD PSSA requirement plan states, "Building the graduation requirement incentive into the PSSA will improve students' effort and accountability toward the PSSA."

"I think this is the missing piece," said Superintendent Barbara Conway.

Students individual PSSA scores are kept private and only the overall school data is looked at by the state.

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