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Local schools fare well in tests

The Pennsylvania Department of Education released data last week from the 2017 Keystone and Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams with schools in Northwestern Lehigh, Palmerton, Weatherly and Pleasant Valley school districts leading the way locally.

Palmerton High School had the most students score proficient or above on the algebra I and literature Keystone Exams at 84.9 percent and 86.8 percent respectively, while Northwestern High School saw 78.4 percent of students score proficient or above on the biology exam.

Keystone Exams are end-of-course assessments in literature, biology and algebra I. Scores among first-time test-takers remained relatively flat over last year’s scores, but there was a noticeable reduction in retests administered. In algebra I, this equates to nearly 7,000 fewer retests, nearly 6,000 fewer in biology, and nearly 3,000 fewer in literature. Students’ best scores are “banked” and reported in statewide data when the student is in 11th grade. Banked grade 11 scores showed a decrease in all three subject areas.

According to Palmerton curriculum director Dan Heaney, the district made several improvements to try to put students in the best position to score well.

“At the K-6 level, we revised the English language arts curriculum and implemented a new reading series,” Heaney said. “We also revised curriculum in 7-12 grades and purchased new materials for both ELA and math. In addition, we made algebra I a year long course and created smaller enrichment groups for remediation.”

PSSA exams are given in English, math and science. Weisenberg Elementary in Northwestern led the way locally with 85.6 percent of students scoring proficient or better in English, while Towamensing Elementary was just behind at 73.8 percent.

“We are really pleased with our scores,” said Towamensing Principal Christine Steigerwalt. “As a district, we continue to look for student achievement and student growth while also looking at how to best reduce the stress of the PSSA test. We provide breakfast like I’m sure most districts do. As far as a curriculum, we adopted a new reading series and are hoping to see positive results from that.”

Weisenberg also had the highest average math scores with 77.3 percent of students at proficient or better followed by Pleasant Valley Elementary at 67.3 percent.

Weisenberg completed the trifecta leading the science category at 94.3 percent of students proficient or above, followed by Weatherly Elementary with 92.3 percent and Towamensing at 91.8 percent.

“I am not surprised by the score,” said Weatherly Elementary Principal Sandra Slavick. “We have an exceptional staff. Our grade four science teacher, Jodi Tedesco, has all students using an interactive notebook throughout the school year. You will actually see students quizzing each other during free time with the colorful notebooks. Last year, Mrs. Tedesco incorporated STEM end of the month reward activities, which students loved and preferred over previous reward choices.”

The PSSAs and Keystone Exams are used as part of Pennsylvania’s statewide accountability system, as required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Standardized tests help identify success and needs in students and schools so they can prioritize and plan, as well as meet federal and state reporting requirements,” Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said. “However, high-stakes testing does not tell the full story and the department is taking several actions to better communicate student progress in our schools. Beginning this school year, the time required to take the PSSAs is reduced by an average of two days, allowing students and teachers to focus more on learning, and in future years the Department’s Future Ready PA Index will create a more accurate reporting system for school districts.”

The results from the 2017 administration of the PSSA will also be used to calculate the School Performance Profile, which will be released this month. As part of its efforts to provide more comprehensive measures of school performance, the Department will launch the Future Ready PA Index during the 2019-20 school year, replacing the SPP as Pennsylvania’s forward-facing school report card.

Last month, Governor Wolf and Secretary Rivera announced a reduction in testing time for students taking the PSSA exams. Beginning this school year, students and teachers in grades four through eight will spend an average of 20 percent less time on statewide testing, and an even greater reduction, nearly 25 percent, for Pennsylvania’s youngest students. The Department identified and removed two sections, one in math and one in English language arts, and additional questions from the science section, which could eliminate up to two full testing days for some schools.

There is a moratorium on the use of Keystone Exams as a statewide high school graduation requirement until 2019.