Scores plummet after state adopts new standard

| 24 Sep 2015 | 02:52

By Anya Tikka
— Three programs directors explained changes in students' test results, including some dramatic drops, to the Delaware Valley school board at its Sept. 17 meeting.

Pennsylvania implemented a tough new standard last year to comply with federal requirements, they said. The school was granted a waiver for a year.

“It’s a different set of standards from previous years," said Dr. Gina Vives, director of curriculum and technology. "We have a year’s waiver. Put those scores aside, look at them in the summer, you can’t compare from last year. This is PA saying this. It’s more rigorous."

New Pennsylvania score standards are rigorous, said Vives, aiming to get students to think critically, and challenging them in a good way.

Dr. Peg Schaffer, director of elementary education, said assessments are done very differently now.

"The bar has actually gone way up, but because the different criteria, scores will go way down," she said.

It was expected to happen all over Pennsylvania after the state chose the new standard, said Schaffer.

Dr. James Purcell, director of secondary education, said the state has predicted what student score will be this year.

"The state predicted the scores would drop," he said. "You’ll get growth points if the student performs above. The state knew the scores would drop this year.”

Next year the state will come out with a prediction for 2016, and Delaware Valley's goal is to get its students higher than whatever is predicted.

Board member Jack O’Leary, looking at the data, commented, “It seems we’re above state average.”

Board member John Wroblewski praised the new standards to encourage critical thinking and application models.

Preparing for the global economy

“This has come home to roost," said Wroblewski. "This is what these tests are about, preparing for global economy — the ability to think, to produce something new based on the knowledge they’ve learned. There are much more difficult tests to pass but (it) brings them to a higher level."

Vives emphasized that the district in general did better than the state average as the result of the hard work of students and teachers. She told the Courier that, because of the increased rigor now required in skills like critical thinking, "You can't look back at last year's scores. That would be comparing apples to oranges. We have to start with them as a fresh new baseline."

Vives said some steps are already in place to improve scores, including a new reading series based on new standards, revised curricula, interventions in English Language Arts, and a new middle school reading program for the seventh grade.

“We’re looking at pretty rigorous steps,” she said.

Schaeffer said a letter to parents was included in the pack about the changes.

“We’re kind of swapping strategies," said Superintendent John Bell. "It’s a huge shift from the old goals. A cultural shift. I think it will be very effective.”

Board member Jack Fisher inquired if this was part of the Pennsylvania Core Standards, and was told it was.

The biggest difference compared to neighboring states is they're going to have common tests, whereas DV is not, said Bell.

“At the last minute, PA pulled out and said we are not going to give over local control, and that gives us tremendous flexibility," he said. "New Jersey and New York are in the common testing.”

Board member Pam Lutfy asked: “What are we doing to raise the score? Is that what’s developing in this new curriculum?”

"The biggest thing is teaching students to be critical thinkers," Schaffer said.

Editor's note: The original article published in print and online contained an incorrect quotation from Dr. Vives. The article has been corrected here. The Courier regrets the error.