Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Test scores: a tale of two districts and charter schools too

(submitted by Susan DeJarnatt)

Test scores get way too much emphasis these days. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) largely reduces school quality to test scores: a very limited way of looking at all that can make up a school community. But test scores are a fact of life in the NCLB era. It is interesting to compare Henry’s test scores with those of much praised suburban and charter schools.

Pennsylvania complies with the testing requirements of NCLB through the PSSA tests which are administered yearly to students in grades 5, 8, and 11 and, as of last year, 3. Students’ scores are ranked as Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic. NCLB requires that all students score at the Proficient level by the year 2014. Each state has to set benchmarks towards that goal and schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress towards the goal of 100% proficiency by hitting those benchmarks.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education website contains NCLB Report Cards for every traditional public and charter school in Pennsylvania. Students in grades 3, 5, 8 and 11 took the PSSAs in 2005-2006. Grades 5, 8, and 11 took the tests in 2004-2005. The NCLB Report Cards say how many students achieved Proficiency for these years. The Report Cards provide an overall score for the school, based on all of the students taking the test. They also provide a breakdown of the performance of students in the subgroups NCLB recognizes, including a breakdown by gender, ethnicity, students with Individual Education Plans and students labeled “economically disadvantaged.” The subgroup scores are listed only if there are at least 40 students in the subgroup at that school.

So how does Henry compare? Henry’s students matched or exceeded the Pennsylvania state averages for most of the grades and subgroups in both 2004-05 and 2005-06. The scores for black kids (NCLB term) are particularly striking. Henry’s black 8th graders beat the state math scores by 62% Proficient at Henry, compared to the state average of 33%. Their reading scores were also impressive: 72% Proficient, compared to the state average of 44%. Henry’s economically disadvantaged students exceeded the state averages in 5 out of 6 grade scores.

Henry’s data compare well to that of the 8 elementary and middle schools in the well-respected Lower Merion School District, too. Most of these schools lack sufficient numbers to have scores in the subgroups for economically disadvantaged and black students. The general scores for these schools are among the highest in the state, to be expected given they are also among the best-funded schools in the state. But Henry’s black students matched or exceeded the Lower Merion schools’ scores in 6 out of 8 categories in 2005-06, and in 4 out of 8 in 2004-05. Henry’s economically disadvantaged students exceeded the Lower Merion students in 6 out of 10 categories.

Finally, the biggest contrast is between Henry and the charter schools. I looked at the data for Christopher Columbus Charter School, Green Woods Charter School, Independence Charter School, KIPP Charter School, West Oak Lane Charter School, and Wissahickon Charter School. Henry’s overall and subgroup scores exceeded those from these charter schools in 67 out of 76 categories. Henry’s scores dominated those from Christopher Columbus and KIPP, completely surpassed those from West Oak Lane and Wissahickon, and closely matched those from Green Woods and Independence.

Test scores are only one aspect of a school. Henry has much, much more to offer than just test scores. But the success of Henry’s students on the tests is impressive and should be a source of confidence, not concern, about the school.

No comments: