New PSSA's And SAT's Show How Low QCHS Has Sunk

October 1, 2012

The PSSA and SAT scores are out for the Class of 2012, and the news across the state is depressing. For QCSD, it is even worse, and getting worser (sorry, I was just empathizing with our students). While our administration stubbornly clings to the Standard Based Grading curriculum (on which Superintendent Lisa Andrejko has staked her reputation and job here), we continue to fall farther behind in our educational performance.

On the state level, for the first time since the PSSA's were instituted in 2002, the percentage of students meeting state math and reading standards has declined. Last year, 77.1 percent scored at or above grade level on the math test; this year, 75.7 percent met the mark. In reading, student scores declined from 73.5 percent to 71.9 percent. Half of the PA schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Educators offer several explanations: Budget cuts. More low-income and non-English speaking students. Test standards increasing every year, as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Benchmarks for math increased from 67 percent last year to 78 percent this year, and from 72 percent in reading to 81. Next year, the bar will be set at 89 percent for math, and 91 for reading. Theoretically, 100 percent of students are supposed to be proficient by 2014.

PA Education Secretary Ron Tomalis even attributed the drop to increased security procedures following an investigation that implicated 110 schools across the state for possible cheating from 2009 to 2011. (This doesn't include QCHS, where Andrejko tried to cover up the firing of one teacher for giving students test answers in his class).

Locally, 25 of the approximately 100 schools in The Intelligencer's coverage area failed to make AYP, as compared to the 50 percent state failure rate. Our area, on the whole, is doing far better than schools statewide. And, of course, since 25 percent of the area schools did not make AYP, 75 percent did. Obviously, most succeed. But not here. QCHS not only failed to make AYP for the second straight year, the reasons for our inadequate performance have multiplied....

Last year, our failure was limited to Economically Disadvantaged students. Approximately 50 percent failed the PSSA's, tied for fifth among the eight nearest districts. But even the overall performance of our 11 th graders raised a red flag. Twenty-nine percent of all QCHS 11th graders failed the math last year, compared to 27.5 percent in 2009-10. And this was after years of Standard Based Grading, and changing the curriculum to focus on standardized tests. We weren't getting better, we were regressing.

And this year it is even worse. QCSD's "AYP Overview" shows that 30.9 percent failed the math, and 22.7 percent failed the reading test. QCHS is the only school - elementary, middle, or high 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 PSSA ratings are a combination of three factors: Graduation, Academic Performance, and Test Participation. Last year, QCHS had a perfect score for Graduation (1/1, meaning 1 subgroup/1 "met measure") and Test Participation (6/6), but was placed in the "Warning" (or third level out of seven) because our academic performance scored (5/6). Our ED subgroup needed improvement. This year, the number of subgroups was increased from 13 to 19 to help pinpoint problem areas. And only our Test Participation was acceptable (8/8). Graduation slipped to (2/3), and, worst of all, Academic Performance was only (3/8).

On the Reading test, not only did our Economically Disadvantaged and Special Education subgroups fail, but the district had to use a "Confidence Interval" technicality for both "White non-Hispanic" (more than 95 percent of our students), and "Students Overall", to avoid being considered as failing. Math was even worse. "Students Overall", "White non Hispanic", and "Special Ed" failed outright, and the district again used a so-called "Safe Harbor" technicality to avoid an ED failure.

The PSSA "Report Card" breaks down all of the scores into comparisons with last year. The numbers vary slightly from the AYP Overview due to overlapping demographics and rounding, and for QCHS they are worse. The Report Card shows that 33 percent of All Students failed math, three percent worse than last year. The state as a whole dropped one percent. Of our six subgroups - Male, Female, White, Latino/Hispanic, Special Ed, and ED - not a single one met state standards.

It was even worse in reading. 23 percent of All Students failed, a huge drop from last year's 15 percent. Even with our poor performance in math, we can compute that we dropped eight points. The state as a whole fell only two percent. Only our Females reached the state standard of 80, squeaking by with 81. The entire, detailed state report card on QCSD and QCHS can be found at http://paayp.emetric.net/Content/reportcards/RC12S122098403000001128.PDF

So when Andrejko, and the administration, offer the excuse du jour - PSSA scores are down across the state - let's see if they tell the whole truth: QCHS is down three times the state average in math, and four times the average in reading.

The one piece of good news for Andrejko is that there will be no more embarrassing PSSA's for our juniors. Starting this spring, the state will phase in the new subject-specific, end-of-course Keystone Exams instead, and factor them into the AYP calculations for both the high school and the district. Unlike the PSSA's, success on the Keystones will be required for high school graduation.

The 2012 SAT's confirm our failures. While our overall scores are actually up a few points over last year (no doubt the only thing that Andrejko will be trumpeting), comparisons to other high schools in the area show that we are falling further behind everyone else.... QCHS seniors averaged 509 in reading, and 526 in math. Last year they were 501 and 524. We are slightly above the national figures of 496 in reading and 514 in math, but that national data includes millions of minority and disadvantaged students in urban and rural areas. We should have far greater expectations of our kids here. That is why we have been long been paying our teachers one of the highest salary structures in PA.

The more realistic comparison is to other high schools in our extended area. Their combined scores range from 1026 (Saucon Valley) to 1128 (CB East). Our total of 1035 places us 10th out of 12, just slightly ahead of Upper Perkiomen (1028) and Saucon Valley, two districts with far lower taxes and teacher salaries.

There is a third, lesser-discussed, SAT test in writing. QCHS's average of 487 was dead last among the 12 high schools. This isn't surprising, given that Standard Based Grading virtually ignores spelling and sentence structure. Our kids may "graduate", but they can't write.

The SAT Company has determined that "College Readiness" is defined as a score of 1550, combining reading, math, and writing. The 12 area high schools ranged from 1687 (CB East) down to 1522 - QCHS. We are again dead last. Again, this is not surprising; earlier this year, US News and World Report found that QCHS's college readiness index of 10.8 is the lowest of all public high schools in the eight districts within 10 miles, and just slightly more than half of the nation's 16.3 median. We are, roughly, in the bottom quarter of the entire country.

And none of this is simply the opinion of this column. It is the hard data from the PSSA and SAT professionals who measure student performance. And it says exactly what other impartial number crunchers, like the 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer Report Card on the Schools (which showed QCHS to be 46th of the 55 public high schools in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties), US News and World Report, and the Sunshine Review have said for years.

So the bottom line question for our new school board - and our entire community - continues to be how long will we tolerate Superintendent Andrejko's excuses, and the intolerable direction of our sons' and daughters' educations? How low do we have to sink, how many kids have to "graduate" unprepared for college, before we stand up and say - ENOUGH!!! ??