The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

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The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

On April 25th, The Daily Local News compared and ranked Chester County High Schools based on analysis done by U.S. News and World Reports. Using publically available data and statistics, the analysis comparing Chester County High Schools created a list not all that dissimilar to when one compares the Building Level Academic Scores from the state’s School Performance Profiles.

Comparison of Chester County High Schools

1. Conestoga High School
2. Unionville High School
3. Great Valley High School
4. Avon Grove High School
5. West Chester East High School
6. West Chester Bayard Rustin High School
7. Kennett High School
8. Downingtown High School West Campus
9. Phoenixville Area High School
10. Octorara Area Junior/Senior High School
11. Coatesville Area Senior High School

As in previous analyses, the only school district with a worse performance than Octorara is Coatesville. Of course, this is not breaking news. We have known for a long time about Octorara’s declining academic performance.

However, what I do question is, why The Daily Local News did not list all Chester County high schools? For instance, Downingtown High School East Campus and Owen J Roberts High School also received scorecards from U.S. News, but the media outlet chose not to list them. Continue reading

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Education Committee Meeting – October 28, 2013

At the last Regular Board Meeting, Dr Newcome (and others) made a big deal of inviting all stakeholders to attend this Education Committee Meeting. The intent was to go deeper into Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores, what they think the scores mean, and what others think the scores mean.

With as big a deal as this particular Education Committee Meeting was, it is extremely interesting that no other candidates for Octorara Area School Director were in attendance. Octorara is switching gears, becoming a Learning Focus School. It is a major change to the School District, but not one candidate (other than myself) could make time for this meeting. Does that make any sense?

Achievement vs Growth 

The big discussion this evening was explaining the new performance indicator… Growth. Under Adequate Yearly Progress, the state measured ability (maybe not the best word). Students where then listed as performing at Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic levels. The goal was to get students testing at Proficient or above.

Now, with School Performance Profile, schools will also be scored on Growth. One thing to note is Growth does not necessarily mean a Basic student has moved to Proficient. The student could, but not necessarily.

The best way to explain this is take two 5th Grade students who start the year reading at a 3rd Grade level. If one student moves from a 3rd Grade level to a 5th Grade level, and the other student moves from a 3rd Grade level to a 4th Grade level, both have shown Growth. However, while one is now at Grade-level, the other is still behind. Does that make sense?

Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System

The Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAA) is a way for school districts to drill down into performance data. Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, provided examples of how this system works, using charts created from data of Economically Disadvantaged Students.

The specific examples Wilson used showed that in many cases, Growth was seen in Economically Disadvantaged Students who were performing Basic and Below Basic, but that there was negative growth with those in this subgroup performing Proficient or Advanced. Remember, these Growth indicators do not mean that Proficient or Advanced students are going backwards, or that Basic and Below Basic are ever going to be Proficient or Advanced. It is just a measure of Growth… in any given year, was there a full year of learning?

The PVAA data can look at indicators District-wide, by school, by Class (exp. the Class of 2023), and down to the individual student level. There is such confidence the data can target issues, the State will begin using it in the State Teacher’s Evaluations.

Drawing the Wrong Conclusions

Dr Newcome rightly explained, to those in attendance, that the PVAA provides so much information, that it could be easily used to prove whatever point an individual wants to make. I agree.

The only scores that anyone should be looking at, to make overall evaluations about the schools, are the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores, and the scored areas that make it up.

The drilled down data is for finding trends to focus on… trends within a Class, subgroups, teachers, and individual students.These slices do go into making the SPP scores, but can easily be distorted. If one slice is doing particularly well, or terribly poor, in a particular area, that slice may not represent to true picture.

Shifting Standards of Comparison

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to discuss Return on Investment, for taxpayers, is the shifting standard by which the District would like to be compared. There are times when the District wants to be compared to only Chester County schools. Sometimes they want Lancaster County schools included in the caparisons. Other times, the District wants to only be compared to adjacent Districts.

The District is now making comparisons based on schools that “most look like Octorara.” They define this as any District, from anywhere in Pennsylvania, with a similar percentage of Economically Disadvantaged Students. However, I don’t know how well this would work. What of a District with a similar number of Economically Disadvantaged, but has a greater percentage of Economically Disadvantaged with IEPs? …or has a greater percentage of Economically Disadvantaged with English as their Second Language? It just becomes a mess.

Conclusions

I can say with certainty the District, all Districts, should have enough information to pinpoint their particular issues. Success will be on how they use this information to adjust school culture, academic rigor, academic support, teacher preparedness and learning. Octorara is betting on Learning Focus to make the difference.

Elena Wilson wanted to stress, when asked about teaching to tests, the goal is to increase performance to make the tests irrelevant. When she asked about if and when the State again changes their assessment systems, she again pointed out the goal is to increase performance to make the assessment systems irrelevant.

As I wrote just a few weeks again, only marginal schools are having the conversations Octorara is having. Those schools that actually do provide an excellent education did well under AYP, and they are scoring well under SPP. Those barely treading water under AYP, are now barely treading water under SPP.