Dubious Numbers Win Octorara Award

Over the past week, there has been some buzz about a new Newsweek article listing Octorara as one of America’s Top 2000 High Schools. However, some of the data seems to be erroneous.


Graduation Rate

Download of the 2011-12 statistics are not yet avilable on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website. However, Dr Newcome stated in a March 2013 memo,

The data for 2011-2012 which will be publicly reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Education indicates a graduation rate of 84.62%.The deadline for submitting appeals for this data was October 2012. This was one month prior to the Annual Report presentation. That is not able to be changed. However, as we have been studying our problems with the data submission process we have found some of our reporting errors. Based on what we have learned I feel comfortable reporting that if we could submit an appeal our numbers would be closer to 92%.

The official graduation rate for the Octorara Area School District, for 2011-12 according to this memo, is 84.62%. This is also the second year in a row that the deadline for submitting appeals is mentioned within the reason why official numbers are so low. He also doesn’t go as far as saying the correct number is 92%, only that he is comfortable that if they could appeal they would be closer to 92%.

College Bound

The methodology used by Newsweek states they used the percent of 2011 graduates who were accepted to college (either a two- or four-year). However, I examined the reports from the Department of Education website, and neither in 2011, nor 2012, did Octorara reach 79%.

Total Post-Secondary Bound 2011: 75.7% (college bound plus non-degree schools)

Total College Bound % 2011: 69.3%

2 or 4 year College or University 2011: 60.9%

Total Post-Secondary Bound 2012: 69% (college bound plus non-degree schools)

Total College Bound % 2012: 68.0%

2 or 4 year College or University 2012: 57.1%

The reports define College Bound students as “[a] high school graduate planning to enroll in a two- or four-year degree granting college or university or a specialized associate degree-granting institution.” While not specifically stated, this seems to explain the discrepancy between “Total College Bound” and “2 or 4 year College or University” percentages. Regardless, even including all students moving to a post-secondary education, Octorara does not reach the 79% used by Newsweek.

Octorara’s 2011 2 or 4 year College or University percentages are lower than Coatesville (65.5%) and Oxford (68.1%), two Chester County schools not in the Top 2000.

Changing The Topic

Despite the errors used by Newsweek, Octorara can be considered average. It is certainly not one the poorest performing school in Pennsylvania, nor in the nation. However, no award changes the topic on return on investment when it comes to what we pay in taxes.

When we examine our tax rate, per-student cost, labor costs, and debt to graduation rates (even the “corrected” numbers), academic achievement, sub-group performance, and college readiness, we are not getting a good outcome.

Some seemed to have assumed, looking at other districts in Chester County, that just spending more would make Octorara a world-class school. We have learned that is a failed theory.

Looking Into The Future

If the budget is passed in June with a zero tax increase for Chester County, it is only a minor victory. The zero increase will be paid for by moving $1 Million from a fund. Next year, that $1 Million will still exist, and there will be at least an addition $1.4 Million added to the budget.

The $2.4 Million could translate into a tax increase of 3.69 mills, increasing our school taxes from 36.66 mills to over 40 mills. The Borough of Parkesburg will be the hardest hit, with their total property tax burden jumping to roughly 54 mills.

There needs to be found a way to actually decrease the budget, not just kick the can.


3 thoughts on “Dubious Numbers Win Octorara Award

  1. Teachers need to step it up and actually do their job in my opinion. If the stats don’t go up soon I think our school funding from the state will be lost for sure. This is sad news from an over burdened tax payer. I want my tax money back!

    • You know, at the end of the day, I believe Octorara does a good job. It is not exceptional or exemplary, but it does a good job. There are strengths, and there are weaknesses… such as subgroup performance… but overall, it is a good school. The problem is the debate with people who would represent Octorara as something it is not, and being forced to point out that the illusion is false.

      Go all the way back to the beginning of the year, when this current debate over taxes began. One school board member attempted to justify the taxes by saying Octorara provides an exceptional, world-class education, and people should be happy and willing to pay for that.

      If someone wants to look at Octorara and think it is an exceptional, world-class district, they are completely entitled to that opinion. It is like a person saying, “This is the best apple pie I have ever tasted.” Another person’s opinion could be it is good pie, but not all that. Opinions are personal and not truly debatable issues.

      The issue is the facts, which are not subjective. Facts shape opinions, opinions don’t shape facts… and that is what we deal, many times, within this debate over taxes and school performance. Facts often seem dismissed, ignored, twisted, manipulated, or whatever happened in this case.

      We are a very, small rural school district, and some people seem to suffer from district envy. They look to the eastern parts of Chester County and they see districts with exceptionally well paid teachers, vibrant sports programs, advanced arts, and a laundry list of language classes. They covet what the wealthier districts possess, and they covet what wealthier districts can achieve.

      Octorara is not a wealthy suburban Philadelphia school district. We are a small rural fringe community. We have neither the economy, nor the demographics, to compete, or even be compared to, the districts to our east. With their words, they may deny this is what they are doing, but their actions betray their motives.

  2. I spoke with a police office from another town close to our district and they said it is happening there too…I shake my head sometimes and wonder what is really going on.

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