Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board
By Katie Crawford
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed into law in 2002, stipulated that all of the nation’s schools must have 100% of their students scoring “proficient” on state tests by the 2013-2014 school year. According to Education Week, “In early 2015, the deadline had passed, but no states had gotten all 100 percent of its students over the proficiency bar.” On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and, “provides significant flexibility around federal education policy by shifting authority back to states and communities.” (Education Week.)
Currently in Pennsylvania, as one of the performance measures, school districts have six years to close the achievement gap in math and literacy by 50% — the gap being defined as the distance from the 2015 PSSA baseline scores to 100% proficiency of all students in English/Language Arts and Math. Students in grades three through eight take the PSSAs. The same formula is applied to the course-specific Keystone exams given at the high school level with the baseline being the 2013 test results. Schools are judged and scored annually to determine if they are on track to close this gap.
Jennifer Gaudioso, Wallingford-Swarthmore’s director of Elementary Education, and Denise Citarelli Jones, director of Secondary Education, delivered a comprehensive, acronym-filled report to the school board on November 14, concerning testing data in our district and how this information is balanced against other types of data like Curriculum Based Assessments and Classroom Assessments. The principals of all five district schools were also in attendance.
Gaudioso and Citarelli Jones acknowledged the limitations of the guidelines in reference to the state testing, including test results’ high correlation to demographics. Also, progress is not measured by following one group of students over time, but rather by comparing one group of students to the following year’s students, which adds uncontrolled variables like new students to the district and unforeseen differences among cohort groups.
Data ‘Our New Best Friend’
However, the administrators stressed the importance of figuring out how best to use this enormous amount of data in district classrooms, encouraging teachers to “Look at and own the data — and get students to own the data as well.” Both noted the importance of having teachers examine whether the state data correlates with the data they were collecting in their own classrooms. Citarelli Jones noted, “Data has become our new best friend.” Gaudioso emphasized that the ultimate goal is “increasing overall mastery of all students,” and that the district, “did not want to become a test prep district,” but rather use data to best inform instruction. Gaudioso and Citarelli Jones are both part of one of the district’s book study groups, discussing DataWise, A Step by Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning, which evolved out of Harvard’s partnership with the Boston schools.
All three elementary schools — Wallingford, Nether Providence, and Swarthmore-Rutledge — met state standards for growth in literacy and math, however NPE narrowly missed meeting the overall achievement gap closure target. By other data measures, NPE’s academic performance has been recognized as exceptional, having been designated last year as a Title I High Progress Reward School. The school is also currently in the process of applying to be a Nationally Distinguished Title I school.
Strath Haven Middle School, while also meeting growth goals, did not meet the overall achievement gap closure target either. Across the state, scores for middle school students are down, particularly in math, which is believed to mark an adjustment to the new 2015 test standards. This is only year two of the new PSSA test which reflects the new standards in ELA and Math. Gaudioso and Citarelli Jones noted that it is still too early to point to any trends in this data. At Strath Haven High School, where the course specific Keystones are administered, 89.38% of students were proficient in algebra, 93.2% in literature, and 84.97% in biology.
Gaudioso and Citarelli Jones also noted the recent achievements of district schools by other measures, including SHHS recognition as a 2016 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, SHMS placing first place in all three grades in the Delaware County Math League Competition, SHMS’s Science Olympiad team placing fourth in the state, and the excellent performances of all three elementary schools in the Delaware County Intermediate Unit’s annual STEM design challenge.