Bruce Clash made the goal clear as he responded to the latest report card on the Carlisle Area School District from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“These numbers have got to come up,” the school board member said, referring to the data on Grade 3 reading proficiency. “I’m very familiar with the research. It’s very clear this is a huge indicator of success.”
The board last week convened an education committee meeting during which Michael Gogoj, director of curriculum and instruction, reviewed the findings of the Future Ready PA Index, the newest format the state uses to gauge school district performance.
Studies have shown a direct correlation between future academic success and a child’s reading proficiency by the third grade, Gogoj said. One indicator of success is the percentage of third-graders scoring proficient or advanced on the English language arts test of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.
Gogoj presented data that showed 37 percent of third-graders at Hamilton Elementary School scored proficient or advanced on the 2018 test. That was the lowest margin among the district’s seven elementary schools where the percentage ranged from 64.2 percent of third-graders at Bellaire to 72.2 percent of third-graders at LeTort.
Clash said there needs to be discussion on the equitable delivery of instruction at Hamilton, which tends to have the largest class sizes in the district in the primary elementary grades. “If we address this, it would solve a lot of everything else up the line.”
Research has shown greater reading proficiency by grade 3 sets up secondary school students to take advantage of advanced placement courses, Clash said. He said it can also lead to greater math comprehension, which could affect another key indicator.
As with reading, studies have shown a direct correlation between future academic success and a child’s performance in math by the seventh grade, Gogoj said. To gauge that, the district looked at the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced on the Grade 7 math PSSA test. Students at Wilson Middle School scored a 41.4 percent, compared to 50.3 percent scored by students at Lamberton Middle School.
While Clash said he would love to see an increase in math proficiency, he felt success by middle school hinges more on the ability of students to read well enough by the third grade to keep pace with the rigor of the curriculum.
“I really want to encourage you to dig into third grade, second grade, first grade and kindergarten,” Clash told Gogoj. He suggested district administrators do more to track students in pre-kindergarten.
The input from Clash came after Gogoj outlined the steps the district plans to take to increase proficiency rates in math at the elementary school level. Gogoj suggested the district establish a committee to evaluate and recommend changes to the math program that better align curriculum to state standards, streamline course lessons from kindergarten to Grade 5 and put in place better supports for students who are struggling.
One reason for this emphasis on math is students in grades 3-5 tend to score higher in the English PSSA than the math PSSA. Gogoj’s presentation included a chart comparing proficiency scores across all the schools in the district.
Of the seven elementary buildings, only North Dickinson scored roughly even on the English and math tests at 65.7 percent and 66.71 percent respectively. In every other building, the English test scores were between 11 and 24 percentage points higher than math scores.
For example, at Mount Holly Elementary School, 58 percent of students in grades 3-5 scored proficient or advanced on the English test compared to 33.7 percent who scored proficient or advanced on the math test. At LeTort Elementary School, the difference was about 18 percentage points: 65.3 percent and 47 percent.
The chart on academic proficiency shows the percentage of students who were proficient or advanced in each school across three subject areas in 2018. The data is taken from PSSA tests in English language arts, math and science in grades 3-8 and from Keystone exams in Literature, Algebra I and Biology at the high school.
Three types of tests across 10 schools resulted in 30 data points. Carlisle Area School District met or exceeded targets in academic achievement in 23 of the 30 testing areas. Three of the elementary schools and one of the middle schools exceeded the statewide average in all three subject areas: LeTort, North Dickinson, Mooreland elementary schools and Lamberton.
Wilson Middle School along with Hamilton and Mount Holly Springs elementary schools scored below statewide averages in two of the three proficiency categories. Crestview Elementary School had a science score of 93.6 percent, which exceeded both the statewide average for 2018 of 64.3 percent and the long-range state goal of 83 percent of students proficient or advanced by the year 2030.
Gogoj also prepared a chart that showed the percentage of students who achieved one year of growth in each grade and subject area. That data was based on PSSA and Keystone test results that were compared to performance growth standards calculated by PDE.
In 12 of the 30 testing areas, Carlisle area students did not meet the statewide growth standard. Wilson came up short in all three subject areas of testing while Hamilton, Lamberton and Carlisle High School came up short in two subject areas.
One hundred percent of Mooreland Elementary School students exceeded the statewide growth standard in science and English while 99 percent exceeded the math standard.
Both high-achieving and low-achieving students did not meet the growth standards, Gogoj said. He said that while subgroups of students fell short of proficiency benchmarks, there were higher rates of growth among those same subgroups of students.
After reviewing the data, administrators identified as a goal the need to establish better support systems within the district to increase the rates of academic proficiency among the subgroups that include black and Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English language learners.
Specific steps include a building-level analysis of test results in each school to identify patterns of growth and achievement across the different grade levels. The district should also review its curriculum and instruction to determine if there are practices that are disenfranchising students who lack support and resources outside of school, Gogoj said.
The district comprehensive plan already includes as a goal the evaluation of the elementary program to identify academic benefits, financial impacts and equity issues that could influence how the grades are configured.