Ten local schools districts and more than half of area schools fail to meet PSSA standard

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Five Washington County school districts and all five Greene County school districts did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements on the state’s standardized achievement tests for 2011-12.


In Washington County, those districts are Bethlehem-Center, Burgettstown Area, California Area, McGuffey and Washington. Greene districts include Carmichaels Area, Central Greene, Jefferson-Morgan, Southeastern Greene and West Greene.


The state Department of Education released AYP results for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment testing Friday. To make AYP, which was established under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must meet academic, graduation and test participation requirements.


Local districts failing to meet the mark are not alone by any means. Of the state’s 499 school districts that administer the PSSA, just 304, or 60.9 percent, made AYP for 2011-12 – a decrease of nearly 33 percent from the prior academic year.


The trend extends to individual schools as well. Little more than half of schools statewide made AYP – plummeting from 75.1 percent in 2010-11 to 50.3 percent in 2011-12. That figure falls to 43 percent locally as just 29 of 67 schools in Washington and Greene counties made AYP. In the prior academic year, nearly 80 percent of local schools met the requirements.


No officials from school districts that failed to make AYP could be reached for comment Friday.


Shortly after releasing the PSSA results, the state Department of Education announced one possible reason for the decline: cheating, or a lack thereof.


Statewide PSSA scores “declined slightly” as a result of an investigation into adults making changes to students’ answer sheets and increased testing security measures, state Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said Friday in a news release.


After investigating PSSA testing irregularities during the past year with the assistance of the state Inspector General’s office, the Department of Education determined that PSSA scores were inflated as a result of altered student answer sheets dating back to the 2008-09 school year, the release states.


“This is the first year the department can confidently report that PSSA scores are a true reflection of student achievement and academic progress,” Tomalis said.


The state Department of Education investigated 48 school districts and charter schools, clearing 30 of any wrongdoing earlier this year. No school districts from Washington or Greene counties were investigated.


Another factor for the decline may be the increased difficulty in reaching AYP performance targets for 2011-12. Math targets increased to 78 percent for math, up from 67 percent, and to 81 percent from 72 percent in reading.


According to the Department of Education, 75.7 percent of students statewide performed at or above grade level in math, while 71.9 percent performed at or above grade level in reading.


As for the Washington County school districts that did not meet AYP for 2011-12, graduation requirements may be to blame.


Washington School District was placed on warning status in 2010-11, as its graduation rate dipped below the 85 percent state target. In 2011-12, Washington High School hit all six of its academic performance targets but was placed on a corrective action plan again due to its graduation rate.


Over the past school year, Washington school officials have said helping students get their diploma remains a priority even if it takes five years and counts against the district’s AYP.


McGuffey School District also met all of its academic performance targets and failed to make AYP for 2011-12 due in part to its graduation targets.


Other Washington County school districts met overall AYP goals, but some individual schools did not earn the designation. Those schools were Avella Area Junior/Senior High School; Bentworth elementary, middle and high schools; Canon-McMillan High School; Charleroi Area elementary and high schools; Chartiers-Houston Junior/Senior High School; Fort Cherry Elementary Center; Ringgold Elementary South as well as the middle and high schools; and Trinity North and West elementary schools.


The only Washington County school district to have all of its schools meet AYP requirements for 2011-12 was Peters Township.


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