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Test scores decline in Pa.

November 26, 2000

Test scores decline in Pa.



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - While fifth-graders statewide scored higher on the state reading test for the second year in a row, two-thirds of Chambersburg schools saw a decline in their students' scores.

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State officials say the overall results may mean the state's academic standards initiative is better preparing students, while local school administrators said they are studying ways to boost their scores.

"Our results are mixed. Some schools went up, some went down" said Eric Michael, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Chambersburg Area School District.

"As a school district, there are some concerns with how the schools performed," Michael said. "We are not seeing a trend of maintaining our small increases."

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But Michael emphasized scores that drop or gain anything less than 50 points are not considered significant.

Twelve of the district's 19 elementary schools saw a decline, but of the 12, only three - Coldbrook, Marion and New Franklin - registered more than a 50-point drop.

Letterkenny and South Hamilton elementary schools both improved their scores by more than 50 points. Letterkenny saw a 150-point hike and South Hamilton a 70-point increase.

Statewide, the average reading score for fifth-graders was 1,320, and 11 Chambersburg schools met or exceeded that score.

Michael said a team of administrators and teachers is already looking into why some schools did not score as well and will evaluate the curriculum.

"We have already met several times to evaluate scores and do an item analysis to analyze which areas we did not do so well in and analyze our instructional strategies to do a better job next year," he said.

Michael said the areas that need improvement vary from school to school.

"That is why we have to go back and see if the problem is with the curriculum as a whole, or did a particular teacher not stress the concept to the class or did the class as a whole have trouble with the particular concept," he said.

More than 133,000 fifth graders in Pennsylvania took the math and reading tests in April, a participation rate of just over 96 percent, said state Department of Education Spokesman Dan Langan.

The statewide math and reading tests, together known as the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, are given to fifth, eighth and 11th graders. They are aligned with state standards and intended to spur improvement in local academic programs.

According to the state, student achievement improved by 10 points for a second year in fifth-grade reading and by 10 points from 1999 in math in fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

"The 10-point growth is significant according to our analysis," especially combined with the similar 10-point gain by fifth-grade readers in 1999, Langan said.

The state must analyze the data to try to determine why scores are going up, but the results "could suggest that schools are taking the tests more seriously and are better preparing students to take the tests," Langan said.

Schools gaining higher scores receive performance grant money from the state. This month, 754 Pennsylvania public schools got a total of $14.6 million for improved scores and attendance, and 54 schools won grant money for maintaining high PSSA scores.

King Street, Letterkenny and Thaddeus Stevens elementary schools each received incentives of $11,000, Michael said.

Statewide, eighth-grade reading scores did not increase this year as they did last year. Eleventh-grade reading scores have shown no improvement either year. Faust Junior High School saw a 10-point gain and Chambersburg Area Senior High School saw a 20-point gain in their reading scores this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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