For the past four years, students at Washington High School have shown a marked improvement in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams.
The trend, explained senior high school Principal Frank Rotunda to the school board last week, reflects a consistent improvement in test scores from eighth to 11th grades. This year, students in the 11th grade had a 19.2 percent increase in math test results from those recorded when they were in eighth grade. That is significantly higher than the state average, which shows a decrease of 11.3 percent.
Wash High’s scores are the highest percentage increase in all of the 14 Intermediate Unit 1 schools in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties. Connellsville posted a 13.5 percent increase, Waynesburg was at 7.5 percent and Avella remained steady. All the other schools showed a negative figure.
On the reading side, Wash High had a 9.1 percent increase, followed by Waynesburg with a 1 percent increase. All the other schools were negative. The decline statewide averages 12.7 percent.
Washington’s test scores showed 92.9 percent of students met the writing standard, the same percentage as Canon-McMillan High School and higher than a number of other high schools, including Trinity, McGuffey and Waynesburg. Only Wash High’s science score of 36.6 percent was under the state standard.
Administrators at Wash High credited some educational changes at the high school level, including eliminating block scheduling and having a seven-period day instead of eight class periods. Doing so gives students an additional 50 minutes of classroom instruction. They also added reading labs in literature for ninth-grade students.
“That did play a big part in raising the achievement at the high school,” said Superintendent Roberta DiLorenzo.
Volunteer groups such as VISTA students from Washington & Jefferson College help with after-school tutoring, as do National Honor Society students and teachers who stay after school to assist students. The district also made changes to the math coursework, and DiLorenzo said they are starting to see the results of that.
“Last year’s group was one of the highest in math and reading. They were fantastic, very encouraging,” Rotunda said.
The PSSA tests, which measure a student’s ability in reading, writing, science and math, are taken by students in grades three, eight and 11. However, for juniors, the PSSAs are being replaced by the Keystone tests, which will be administered for the first time next month. Rotunda said scores from the Keystones are expected to be completed March 4, giving school districts time to assist those students not proficient in order that they can retake the test in May.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students must be 100 percent proficient in reading and math by 2014. The act also requires states to determine a school’s Adequate Yearly Progress. In 2011-12, the AYP targets were 78 percent proficiency in math and 81 percent in reading.
Wash High didn’t make its overall AYP target because of its graduation rate, but DiLorenzo noted the school had achieved 15 targets out of 16.
“Any place else, if you made 15 out of 16 you wouldn’t be called failing,” she said.
DiLorenzo advised the school board that there also were incorrect figures in the released AYP scores, such as a number of subgroups Wash High doesn’t even have. Special education students may stay in school until they are 21 years of age. However, if they don’t graduate in four years it is counted against the district’s graduation rate.
“We don’t mind being held accountable if it makes sense, but some of this doesn’t make sense,” DiLorenzo said. “All people hear is your school made it or didn’t make it.”
Administrators are working to correct the numbers with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.