Parents of 3-5 graders at Lower Pottsgrove Elementary School got bad news this week about overall student performance in math and reading. Pottsgrove School District administrators are already offering some solutions.
POTTSTOWN PA – The numbers aren’t pretty, school officials agree.
Several performance statistics, supplied earlier this week by the Pottsgrove School District to parents of children in grades 3-5 who attended its Lower Pottsgrove Elementary School during the just-ended academic year, paint a grim overall picture. They show, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, that a substantial portion of Lower’s pupils did not succeed in math as often, or read as well, as the state contends they should.
Pennsylvania expected a minimum of 78 percent of the Buchert Road school’s third-to-fifth graders to be proficient in math, as demonstrated by scores on standardized tests taken during March (2012). Only 74.3 percent were, it said. The state also expected 81 percent reading proficiency from those same students; Lower’s overall level was 74.0 percent.
District-wide numbers for all 3-5 graders – those who went to Lower, to West Pottsgrove, and to Ringing Rocks elementaries during 2011-2012 – were slightly better but also below expectations. The combined overall math proficiency was 77.4 percent; for reading, 76.1 percent.
Reaction to the results, as the department’s initial determinations were publicly reported Wednesday (Aug. 15, 2012), was immediate. In calls to the district office, in e-mails, in comments on social media platforms, and in talk among themselves some parents angrily argued that Pottsgrove taxpayers haven’t gotten their money’s worth in scholastic achievement.
The numbers are “troubling” and “most disappointing,” Superintendent Dr. Bradley Landis said Tuesday, but they aren’t hopeless, he added. He promised his staff is working hard to raise proficiency levels not just at Lower but across the district because, he hinted, similarly dismaying figures probably also will soon be reported for certain grades and groups at Pottsgrove high and middle schools.
The problems facing Pottsgrove
There are difficult challenges ahead, though, Landis noted, and the greatest of those may be dealing with the state itself.
Pennsylvania’s proficiency demands, Landis said, are driven in part by the federal “No Child Left Behind Act;” by a nationwide effort called “Common Core State Standards” that’s meant to ensure all schools teach the same topics the same way; and by the arrival this year (2012-2013) of the Keystone Exams, a wholly new set of high school graduation tests. Dealing with all of them at once, he said, is like shooting at a moving target.
“The standards have changed three times in the past four years,” Landis said.
- As a result, Pottsgrove will re-develop and re-write classroom curriculums that puts the targets back into teachers’ sights. It has hired outside experts and trained in-house coaches to help with the work.
Besides changes being implemented on the state level, there also is a recognition the district itself has changed over time. Its student demographics are significantly different than those of 10 and 20 years ago. There is greater cultural, economic and multilingual diversity here than before, and Lower’s statistics reflects its problems in ensuring certain groups are equally well educated.
In math, for example, its African-American 3-5 students tested out at 36.7 percent proficiency, below the state’s expectation for the group as a whole, as well as below the overall and district-wide levels. Economically disadvantaged students similarly suffered; they tested out at 54.9 percent math proficiency.
The story is much the same in reading. African-American 3-5 students at Lower showed only 44.9 percent reading proficiency; the economically disadvantaged, 58.8 percent; and a third category, students with disabilities covered by an individualized education plan, 40.6 percent. Again, all were below the expectations for their groups, as well as the levels for Lower and the district overall.
So what now?
Specifically at Lower, the district also told parents it intends to:
- Step up “balanced literacy instruction,” a way to teach reading that blends the old-fashioned use of phonics (relating letters to the sounds they make) with a newer style called whole language (emphasizing whole words and their meanings). The combination covers the varied learning abilities of a greater number of students, experts report;
- Expand reading and math opportunities in a process called “Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtII).” It focuses on early screening to identify children who need extra help, teaching each with materials that work best for them, collaboration between teachers so they reinforce lessons and concepts in similar ways, and consistently monitoring each child’s progress. RtII will dovetail with;
- Increase differentiated instruction. It’s a way to tailor lessons, classroom assignments, and homework to different students of different abilities so all receive the same education but probably at different rates or paces; and
- Rely more on data teams. Teachers of different or related subjects work together to study and compare notes on which children are learning quickly, and which are having problems, and then plan to provide remedial help as rapidly and effectively as possible. It’s a variant on the philosophy that many hands make light work.
Restructuring Lower this year as an educational center for only grades 3-5 (it formerly taught everyone from kindergarten through fifth), as part of Pottsgrove’s redistricting plan approved in February (2012), makes implementation of these strategies easier, Landis has said in the past.
Opponents of the centers concept have decried that theory as hokum. During hotly contested debates over the past 10 months, they charged the district would pay more than it needed to educate the same children, that teacher teams would have insufficient time to meet and collaborate, and that centralizing 3-5 students had yet to be proven effective elsewhere.
The debate may continue into this October, when the district said it plans to hold a parent information meeting to discuss its remediation measures and ask for community comments. A date and time for the meeting will be announced after school opens on Aug. 27.
Related (regarding academic performance at Pottsgrove):
- District Proposes Remedial Plan For Lower’s 3-5 Students
- Some Lower Pottsgrove Pupils Fall Below State Standard
- Pottsgrove Future May Hinge On Tests That Start Today
- ‘Grove Headache, ‘No Child Left Behind,’ Hits 10th Year
- Teachers Helping Classes Succeed, Newsletter Contends
- Poor Math, Reading At Pottsgrove High Frustrates Board
- State Says Pottsgrove Schools Make ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’
- Pottsgrove Teachers Review District Accountability Plan
- School Board Criticizes Lack of Students’ Improvement
- Notebook Worthy For March 23, 2009
- Pottsgrove Tops Many In Science, But …
Center and bottom photos from Google Images