Living in Hanover

Living in Hanover

'Apparently a blog about living in Hanover'

Making Sense of the HPSD and PSSA Mess

September 10, 2012 | Comment

The agenda for the Hanover school board looks kinda light tonight, so I’m glad I can’t make it. I could swing by for part of the meeting, but have a few other things to do so will just sit this one out. Unless they add something to the agenda late, the only real discussion seems to be focused on the PSSAs.

If you read The Evening Sun over the weekend, you saw that HPSD failed to make AYP. Surprisingly, that gets not much more than a yawn from me. The system the state uses to measure schools has so many flaws, it’s hard to get too worked up over it. That doesn’t mean I don’t want the school district to improve. I just think the labels assigned to schools with issues don’t always carry a lot of weight.

Before I rant, let me interject that I loved seeing some of the great numbers from the elementary levels, especially at Hanover Street, where my daughter went.

I worry more about how the school district intends to handle the situation. The high school is such a minefield because of only one year for the PSSAs, which are being phased out. But the AYP failure at that level came based on the graduation rate, which was in the mid-70 percentile instead of the target of 85. I haven’t read up on the specifics of that one so don’t know all the criteria.

For the middle school, the same old story popped up – students in two “subgroups” did not meet the standard set by the state. So the entire school is painted with a negative brush because special education and lower income students didn’t hit the state mark.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it’s OK that students in those groups fall behind, and I hope that the school can find strategies to turn things around. However, since the entire school is branded as inadequate because of those two groups, resources then have the potential to be shifted from students who need to be challenged even though they are testing at or above proficient levels in order to bring up the groups who have fallen behind.

To make things worse, since the state deals solely in percentages, a couple of kids could determine a school’s entire fate. I know the special ed (students with an IEP) students were in the 20-some percentile so that isn’t the case this year, but I’m not sure of the numbers for the economically disadvantaged kids. I can’t wait to look at the spreadsheets (yeah, I’m a geek).

I also don’t like that two groups who may have less parental involvement or more obstacles in front of parental involvement are the way the state determines whether a school is doing well or not since we all know that support and attention at home play a huge role in these things.

I understand that the point of the federal law is “no child left behind,” and that concept in a macro sense is more than honorable. But when you force schools to possibly make decisions that potentially leave behind motivated, successful students because everything is geared towards the students keeping the school from meeting a state mandate which might not make a ton of sense.

In my opinion, when schools face issues like Hanover does, the need to stop worrying about stigmas of grouping kids by ability and let the ones who need extra help with the skills for these tests get special attention and let kids who don’t have trouble on the tests and may be able to go above and beyond the curriculum the chance to do so.

We understand that there are certain goals the district needs to meet, but those students meeting those goals shouldn’t be held back. If you really want to meet AYP, take the students who are having trouble, teach them the way you think they need to be taught to pass the state test and let the rest of the students challenge themselves in creative and fun ways. We can’t get rid of the PSSA culture, but we can adjust to it so that it doesn’t overwhelm everyone in the school district.

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