PVAAS Scores Are Latest QCSD/SBG Disaster

October 22, 2012

Standard Based Grading, and the QCSD administration that stubbornly clings to it, have taken yet another kill shot from the PA Department of Education. The official measure of progress for state public schools shows widespread failure across our nine schools, both in math and reading.

And if you didn't see this report elsewhere, it is because our Quite Commonly Secret District never told anyone - including the school board.

The 2012 Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System (PVAAS) reveals that, as a district, QCSD's progress is an unbelievable 521st out of 544 statewide in math. Leading the way down is our high school, which is supposed to prepare our students for higher academia, and life in the real world. It is 646th out of 682 high schools in the state in math progress. Pfaff Elementary is the only school in our system to meet PA Standards for Academic Growth in both reading and math.

Don't blame our teachers. By any measure, our Standard Based Grading curriculum is an absolute disaster, and getting worse each year.

The PA Department of Education's website explains: "PVAAS is data that offers an objective and more precise way to measure student progress and the value schools and districts add to students' educational experiences. Pennsylvania is one of four states providing this information statewide to all school districts. Districts and schools are using PVAAS (progress data), in conjunction with achievement data, to make sure all students are on the trajectory to proficiency. Utilizing all the data available (progress and achievement), educators are able to make data-informed instructional decisions to ensure the academic growth and achievement of all students." The methodology has been published since 1997, and is nationally peer reviewed.

By measuring students' academic achievement (PSSA), and progress (PVAAS), schools and districts get a more comprehensive picture of their own effectiveness in raising student achievement. It should also be noted that the PVAAS is free of any demographic issues that QCSD likes to use as excuses (i.e. ethnicity, economics, disabilities) because it compares each student's progress against only him/herself. Our PVAAS progress, from elementary schools through QCHS, is terrible, in addition to our PSSA achievement being one of the worst in the area.

Pfaff is far and away our most successful school at any level, with excellent progress in math, and very good in reading. That is the good news - the only good news.

Of the five other elementaries, Quakertown and Trumbauersville each showed "moderate" progress in math, but "significant", and "moderate" failure, respectively, in reading. Tohickon "met" the standard in math, but had "moderate" failure in reading. Neidig and Richland each had "moderate" failure in math, and "moderate" and "significant" failure, respectively, in reading.

These findings for our primary grades are extremely troublesome. Historically, QCHS has struggled with academics, but we could always count on our elementary schools to give the students a solid educational base. The PVAAS shows that this is no longer the case. Five of the six are below the state standard for Academic Growth in reading (two significantly), and two in math.

The two middle schools are even worse. Milford's progress "significantly" failed in both math and reading. Strayer's "significant" math failure was near the bottom of all middle schools in the entire state, though it anomalously met the state growth standard in reading.

QCHS's data was similar to Strayer's. While making "moderate" progress in reading, the deterioration of math skills is five-star alarming. We come in at 646 out of 682 PA high schools. Eleven of the 36 below us are Philadelphia city schools. Six more are cyber or charter schools, and two are vo-techs. Only 17 non-Philly traditional high schools in all of Pennsylvania are progressing worse than QCHS.

A new pattern is emerging in QCSD, and it has to be reversed soon. Prior to SBG, our elementary schools tested well. Students were given the ages-old basic skills of education - reading, spelling, arithmetic, writing. There was some falloff in the middle schools, and even more so in QCHS. But the basic knowledge, and good habits, instilled in the early grades was enough to carry many students through graduation, and into college.

Not so now. SBG rejects those basic skills in favor of reliance on computers, spelling and grammar check programs, calculators, and the internet. Tools that can enhance education, but not replace it. So, as the PVAAS results bear out, most of our sons and daughters are no longer ahead of the game in elementary school. Without the basics - the essentials of education - they are simply not prepared to learn. They are not achieving, and they are not progressing. And as the kids from Neidig, and Richland, and Tohickon continue their declines in Milford and Strayer, and then QCHS, it will get even worse.

Elementary school parents, once uniformly thrilled with QCSD education, should now be greatly concerned.

Superintendent Lisa Andrejko (whose prior district, Norristown, is also still in educational purgatory) imposed SBG on our schools despite strong opposition from the teachers. Her continued employment here is predicated on success, so she, and the rest of the ever-changing administration, hear no evil, see no evil, and allow no one to speak evil of our failures.

In fact, when our terrible 2011 PVAAS scores became known to the administration last year (prior to general release), a memo was sent to all district personnel telling them how to deal with media and public criticism. It included statements like "A complicated formula is used, that no one seems to be able to explain", "this data can produce results that are contradictory to other credible data for evaluating student performance", and "This data was never intended for public release because it should not be used to compare schools or teachers' effectiveness."

Typical ass-covering nonsense. The PA Dept of Ed puts great stock in the PVAAS program, and has an enormous website devoted to it - including a simple explanation of that "complicated formula" which, apparently, only QCSD doesn't understand - and complete data specifically for public release, including full rankings in order of progress. You can bet that districts with good ratings are proud of it. When our admins claim that comparisons among districts are not valid, it is nothing more than a(nother) whitewash.

Predictably, the administration has never mentioned anything about the 2012 PVAAS results to the school board, or the community, although the data was released on September 19. When I asked for comment, one director wrote "We, the board, have not been given any of this information, so I must admit that I learned something new from this article. The last time we brought up PVAAS, Andrejko said that the data should not be used to compare districts, and is only supposed to be used internally. QCSD should only look at QCSD data. They simply dismissed the entire PVAAS argument."

But if Andrejko's excuse is true, why does the Dept of Ed list the districts, and also each individual school, in order of progress rather than, say, alphabetically or geographically, which would make them easier to locate? Because everyone wants to know how their schools are doing in comparison to others - except, apparently, the folks here responsible for the problems.

And even if we don't compare ourselves to other districts, it is irresponsible, indeed impossible, to overlook the sad fact that only one of our nine schools meets state standards for Academic Growth in both reading and math, and five show "significant" failure.

But, apparently, not significant enough to inform the school board - or the community.