Three of the seven elementary schools in the Carlisle Area School District met or exceeded the target score of 70 points on 2017 School Performance Profiles.
With 85.2 points, Mooreland Elementary School topped every other building in the district including the Lamberton and Wilson middle schools and Carlisle High School.
Crestview and Bellaire elementary schools scored 79.8 and 76.5 points respectively compared to 76.1 points scored by the high school, 72.2 points by Wilson and 71.2 points by Lamberton. The four other elementary schools, from highest to lowest, were Mount Holly Springs (65.4 points), North Dickinson (65), LeTort (60.2) and Hamilton (59.2).
The main reason for the low profile scores is a slight drop in recent years in the percentage of students scoring either proficient or advanced in math and English-language arts as measured by the annual Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, said Karen Quinn, director of curriculum and instruction for the district.
Fifty percent of the profile score is based on achievement levels measured by PSSA tests administered to students in grades 3-8 and by Keystone Exams administered mostly to high school aged students, Quinn said.
She said another 40 percent of the score is based on measuring growth by comparing actual test results with where the state believes the students should be from one year to the next. The remaining 10 percent of the score is based on other academic indicators such as student promotion and graduation rates.
Carlisle above state average
Quinn briefed the school board education committee last week on the results of state assessments. District administrators plan to examine the data to determine if any adjustments need to be made to instruction that could impact the budget for 2018-19.
In 2017, Carlisle area students scored slightly above the state average at every level and category of the PSSA tests and on the Keystone exams in Algebra I and literature. Carlisle students scored slightly below the state average on the biology Keystone exam.
In math, 51.2 percent of Carlisle students in grades 4-8 scored proficient or advanced compared to 42.6 percent of students across Pennsylvania. That was a difference of almost 9 percentage points.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of Carlisle students scored proficient or advanced in English-language arts compared to an average of 61.2 percent of students statewide for a difference of almost 7 percentage points.
The science PSSA test is only administered to fourth and eighth grade students. In that category, 71.5 percent of the Carlisle test-takers scored proficient or advanced compared to a state average of 63.7 percent or a difference of plus 7.8 percent, according to test results.
Skyrocket in test rigor
While Carlisle students have a track record of scoring above the statewide average, that average has been coming down in recent years, and school districts across Pennsylvania have been struggling to bring the scores back up, Quinn said. She said the main reason for the drop has been a “skyrocket” increase in the rigor of the test in recent years.
Adjustments brought on by the Common Core standards, for example, mean that curriculum once taught in the third grade has been moved to the second grade and curriculum once taught in eighth grade is now taught in sixth grade.
“We are asking students to do things earlier in their school career,” said Quinn, adding that this calls to question whether students are cognitively ready to learn the tasks they are being called on to do during the PSSA exam.
Prior to the change in the rigor of the test, Carlisle Area School District was seeing marked growth in the number of students scoring proficient or advanced in the year-to-year PSSA test results, Quinn said.
In math in 2017, there was a spread of 39 percentage points between the lowest scoring elementary school — Mount Holly Springs at 30.7 percent — and the highest scoring elementary school — Mooreland at 69 percent.
Meanwhile in English-language arts, a 29 percentage-point spread existed between the lowest scoring school — Hamilton at 50 percent — and the highest scoring elementary school — Mooreland at 79.7 percent.
Carlisle School District has three Title I elementary schools — Hamilton, LeTort and Mount Holly Springs. Title I schools have a high percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, a key government indicator of poverty.
Taken individually, all three Title I schools have scored below the statewide average in math and in English-language arts. In math, LeTort was 40.6 percent, Hamilton was 39.4 percent and Mount Holly Springs was 30.7 percent. In ELA, LeTort was 56.2 percent, Mount Holly was 54.4 percent and Hamilton was 50 percent.
Students from economically disadvantaged families tend to come to school with less vocabulary and less literacy at home in the form of reading material, Quinn said. She said lack of money and resources can put a strain on these families to the point where having adequate food and shelter becomes more of a priority than a focus on education.
High poverty students also tend to be more transient and could move several times during the course of the school year, Quinn said. Each time they may have to start at a different point in the curriculum.
“When kids jump schools, it can be very disjointed,” Quinn said.
Test result disparity
School board member Bruce Clash asked what the district could do about the disparity in test results among the seven elementary schools. “What should we be thinking about when it comes to the distribution of resources?” Clash asked, referring to the availability of tutors and classroom aides.
With the release of the results, district administrators have started internal conversations with building-level administrators and staff to see what adjustments are needed to programs to improve student achievement, acting Superintendent Christina Spielbauer said. This may include changes in professional development opportunities.
Long-time board member Fred Baldwin has seen frustration over the years over the frequent changes in the testing protocols. He asked how the administration can get good longitudinal data measuring year-to-year progress of students moving through the system.
“We have internal measures we can look at,” Quinn said. “We know exactly where the students are.” Quinn said the PSSA test scores are just “a snapshot in time” that may not show the real impact of 180 days of learning.
Board member Deborah Sweaney said there can be an unhealthy level of stress among the students taking the test. “These numbers do not really show how our schools are really functioning,” she said.
As for the Keystone exams, about 71.1 percent of Carlisle area students scored in the high range on the Algebra I test compared to 65.6 percent of students statewide for a difference of 5.5 percentage points.
Meanwhile 79 percent of Carlisle area students scored in the high range on the literature exam compared to 72.7 percent of students statewide for a difference of 5.5 percentage points.
The biology exam was the only state assessment where Carlisle area students, at 59.8 percent, scored below the statewide average, which was 63.4 percent.