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On state tests, Middletown students a mix bag as LD outperforms peers in Pa.

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/13/19

How do Lower Dauphin School District and Middletown Area School District measure up on state standardized tests, graduation rates and student attendance?

Middletown’s 2018 test scores were a …

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On state tests, Middletown students a mix bag as LD outperforms peers in Pa.

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How do Lower Dauphin School District and Middletown Area School District measure up on state standardized tests, graduation rates and student attendance?

Middletown’s 2018 test scores were a mixed bag — down nearly districtwide in math, growing in some grades in English language arts, and performing both better and worse than their peers statewide.

Nearly districtwide, Lower Dauphin’s 2018 test scores were above their peers statewide, though some grade’s scores dipped from 2017.

New reporting system

In November, PDE launched a new reporting system called the Future Ready PA Index which provides a plethora of data, including how students perform on state standardized tests, attendance, graduation rates and transition to post-secondary school, the military or work after high school. The index can be accessed at futurereadypa.org.

The data in this article is taken from both the Future Ready PA Index and data on PDE’s website.

MASD Superintendent Lori Suski noted that while the index provided a glimpse into the schools, it didn’t reflect students who perform well on academics outside of ELA, math and science or extracurricular activities.

The index, she said, shouldn’t be the solution when evaluating MASD student and teacher success.

“If you want to see those qualitative pieces, just take a look at our website where we feature these accomplishments, or better yet, come and visit our schools to get the full picture of why Middletown Area SD is a great place to learn,” Suski said.

Math scores fall

Both Suski and Lower Dauphin community relations coordinator Jim Hazen cautioned against comparing — for example — third grade scores in 2017 to 2018 because it’s a different group of students every year.

The Press & Journal instead compared the cohort of students. For example, how students did when they were in third grade in 2017 to how they performed as fourth-graders in 2018?

“As with any school year’s results, there are areas of success we are pleased about as well as areas of weakness that we continue to address,” Suski said.

She said they were pleased with the student growth, but disappointed, particularly, in the students’ math scores.

Nearly districtwide, MASD math scores on the Pennsylvania System School of Assessment fell from 2017 to 2018.

The largest drop in math scores was in fourth grade at Reid Elementary School. Scores dropped by 27.7 percentage points. In 2017, 58.3 percent of Reid third-graders scored either advanced or proficient on the math PSSA, and in 2018, 30.6 percent of Reid now-fourth-graders were deemed proficient on the math test.

Besides Kunkel Elementary School fourth- and fifth-graders, a majority of MASD’s math scores were below the 50th percentile. Kunkel fourth- and fifth-graders were also the only elementary grades to perform above the state average on the math PSSA.

While Middletown Area Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders’ math scores dipped from 2017, schoolwide they performed above the state average.

Math has been an ongoing challenge, Suski said.

She said earlier this school year, the district implemented a plan to address how math is taught at all grade levels. Professional development was provided to teachers, and they continue to receive training. The district also recently changed their math textbooks.

Suski is hopeful the training will yield better scores.

“One of the biggest problems with the math scores everywhere is that students often do not have the foundational skills for basic operations solidified by the time they exit elementary school,” Suski said.

However, MASD was not the only district whose math scores fell. Nearly districtwide, Steelton-Highspire’s math scores both decreased and were well below the state average. Most of Steel-High’s scores were in the single digits — the exception was the algebra Keystone test where 15 percent of juniors were deemed proficient or advanced. Seventh grade had the lowest score with only 0.8 percent of the 118 students who took the math test scoring proficient or advanced.

While Lower Dauphin math scores took a hit from 2017, most of the district performed above the state average. That was the same on Lower Dauphin’s ELA PSSA and literature Keystone test.

“When scores are good or bad, we look at that it’s a snapshot of the academic life of that school kid. It’s still a one-time test but your achievement is around where it should be,” Hazen said.

MASD students, however, fared better on the English Language Arts PSSA in 2018. Many grades were at or passed the 50 percent mark in students who scored proficient or advanced on the test.

Some grades and schools performed better than last year. At Fink Elementary School, the number of fourth-graders who performed either proficient or advanced increased from 45.9 percent to 48.7 percent. At Reid, the number of fifth-graders who scored either proficient or advanced increased from 53.1 percent to 58.3 percent.

MAMS’ scores also increased and the students were either at or above the statewide average. While Kunkel’s scores took a hit from 2017, schoolwide, the students outperformed their peers statewide.

On the science PSSA, which is given to fourth- and eighth-graders, Reid and MAMS students performed better than their peers statewide.

On the 2018 Keystone Exam taken by Middletown Area High School juniors, more students were proficient or advanced in literature than 2017 juniors. However, they were outperformed by their peers statewide.

Attendance, graduation rates

The Future Ready PA Index indicated that most MASD schools had attendance rates of more than 90 percent.

“Attendance has always been a strength for MASD over the years. Our students enjoy coming to school, and only a small percentage have truancy issues,” Suski said.

She said she wasn’t surprised by the data, but wanted it to be higher. Future Ready PA Index indicated that Fink had a regular attendance rate of 93.8 percent, 91.8 percent at Reid, 91.7 percent at Kunkel, 90 percent at Middletown Area Middle School and 82.3 percent at Middletown Area High School.

“Obviously, our goal is to have an attendance rate of 100 percent,” Suski said.

The data helps the district focus on where the students may have issues such as anxiety, motivation or family life problems and develop plans to have students attend school, whether it’s a physical school or Raider Academy, she said.

Most Lower Dauphin schools had attendance rates more than 90 percent. The exception was Lower Dauphin High School, whose attendance rate was 85.8 percent.

One explanation could be that the district codes attendances different than the state, Hazen said. He said students on internships or doing school-related activities out of school may be marked absent under the state’s, but not the district’s, attendance system. He said the district was looking to make sure they were coding attendance correctly.

PDE’s data indicates that 88.82 percent of MAHS seniors graduated in four years in 2016-2017, which is the most recent data available. MAHS’s rate is just above the statewide average of 86.57 percent. Lower Dauphin’s rate is 93.59 percent.

The Future Ready PA Index indicates that 50 percent of MAHS graduates go onto post-secondary education, 14.9 percent enlist in the military and 15.6 percent enter the workforce. PDE notes that this data is lagging, and Suski said the district’s graduation survey data indicated higher percentages than PDE’s data.

At Steel-High, 48.1 percent of graduates went on to post-secondary education, 10.4 percent into the military and 32.5 percent into the workforce.

At Lower Dauphin, 64.6 percent went onto post-secondary education, 9.1 percent enlisted and 14.2 percent entered the workforce.