More PSSA Failures Beget More Admin Excuses

November 5, 2012

In the wake of QCSD's terrible showing on the last two PSSA exams, the administration faced the school board on October 25, and rolled out.....more excuses.

Sure, they did say the usual pablum about working harder with students, yatta yatta, and maybe even switching to another math curriculum - the third in five years following the disgrace of Integrated Math and whatever they call the latest flopped fad that has dragged our 11th grade PSSA pass rate down to less than 70 percent.

But the most interesting part of the meeting was hearing the beleaguered admins not only dish out excuses for the prior failures, but prepare the community for even greater problems in the future. The bar for success around here is so low that it is a tripping hazard.

What the admins did not say: QCSD has failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress for the second straight year. 30.9 percent of our juniors failed the PSSA math, and 22.7 percent failed the reading. QCHS is the only school in all of Bucks County to be designated "School Improvement 1", the fourth-lowest of seven levels. Only two schools in the entire county are deemed worse. Of the 1429 schools in the state, only 358 are below QCHS, mostly schools in depressed urban areas.

The 2012 PA Value Added Assessment System (PVAAS) places QCSD's math progress at 521st out of 544 districts statewide. QCHS is 646th out of 682 high schools. Pfaff Elementary is the only school in our system to meet PA Standards for Academic Growth in both reading and math.

And lest we forget, when our current seniors were in 9th grade, they only had math for half of the year thanks to block scheduling (another of embattled Superintendent Lisa Andrejko's brilliant ideas).

What the admins did say: The tone for the evening was set when the presentation was lead off by Suzanne Laverick-Stone, Andrejko's assistant. You knew that the news was going to be bad, because Andrejko is always front and center when it is time for accolades. Delivering bad news - and facing the potentially tough questions - is someone else's job.

We might have thought that Laverick-Stone had a sense of humor, because she labeled our showing as "concerning" to the administration. No, Suzanne. "Concerning" is when the weather may not allow the first graders to go outside for recess. Having one of the worst academic records in the entire state, while paying teachers (and administrators) one of the highest salaries, evokes thoughts such as "horrifying", "embarrassing"... and "firing".

Having already minimized the past problems, Laverick-Stone then moved on to the official excuses. She suggested that 11th grade test scores are down because the students have to take so many such tests. "These kids have a lot on their minds. ACT's, SAT's, upcoming college entrance and placement tests, they don't understand the impact of AYP to the district, and taking PSSA or Keystone tests might not be high on their priority list".

Well, that scuttles the sense-of-humor theory. Her cohorts chest-beat about the (relatively few) instances of accomplishment, but, when things go wrong, they throw the students under the bus rather than accepting responsibility for improperly preparing them. Every high school junior in the state is taking the same tests, and have the same pressures as here. In fact, many of the kids elsewhere are taking even more tests: for scholarships, internships, pre-college programs, advanced placements, and standardized national achievement tests (which QCSD avoids like the plague).

Moreover, it would be virtually impossible for a QCHS student to misunderstand the importance of the PSSA's. Our curriculum has been tailored to one goal, and one goal only - score proficient or better on those PSSA tests. We do nothing but teach to the PSSA's, at the expense of the basics of reading, writing, math, spelling, and history.

And, if the PSSA's are as important to the administration as Ms Laverick-Stone claims, then whose fault is it if the kids don't understand how seriously they need to take them??? Is our entire district incapable of communicating that simple fact? Regardless of that answer, all of these excuses will now be moot. With the new Keystone Exams, which replace the PSSA's for juniors starting this year, students will have to pass the exit tests in each subject in order to graduate. No more QCSD just pushing every student out the door regardless of preparation. You fail, you stay. Even our admins should be able to get that across.

Laverick-Stone then turned the shoveling over to Program Director Rachel Holler, who proceeded to lower the expectations on our Keystone results long before the first tests have even been administered. "The Keystone questions are not always straight forward. There may be obvious answers, which are in fact the wrong answers".

What????? This is beyond absurd. Are we really lamenting that the graduation tests, which supposedly reveal a student's grasp of course work, and acknowledge that he/she is ready for college-level studies, contain more than simply "obvious" answers??? OMG, will our kids actually have to think beyond the obvious? Will we actually have to prepare them with real knowledge? Is that asking too much of our high school?

Will someone please remind Ms Holler, and the rest of our excuse-meisters, that the Keystone Exams are not just being given in QCSD. All juniors in the state are taking them. All juniors will have to think beyond the obvious. And, hopefully, most of those other 543 school districts will be more professional in their approach to the topic than to moan that the answers won't be obvious.

Holler further embarrassed herself, and her admin buddies, by grousing that some students will be taking a Keystone Exam in subjects such as algebra I, even though they actually took the course in a prior grade. "We have students who took algebra I in seventh grade, so there may be a number of years from when they had the content and now they have to take the Keystones".

Forget the fact that all schools are, again, in the same situation. This statement pretty much sums up the QCSD approach to education. We don't expect our students to remember what they were taught after the course is over. You really have to wonder how these folks rose to positions of leadership and decision-making involving our sons and daughters. Perhaps we need to remind them that the purpose of education is to inculcate students with knowledge to use for the rest of their lives, not just to pass a test. The need for basic algebra doesn't cease after seventh grade. Students should grasp its practical applications in real life. They should understand more of it five years later, not less.

But in QCSD we teach to the test - whatever test happens to be coming up next. Then we forget the material, and teach to the next test. The focus is always on passing tests, not on learning. As a result, we do neither.

And were pretty poor at excuses, too.