I want to talk about our schools this week, for 3 reasons. One is that the 2013-2014 PSSA test scores were in the news this past week. Another is about the conversations I had about with my neighbors in the 3rd district while working at the polls last Tuesday. The 3rd reason I'll reserve for later in the week.
The Inquirer ran an article last Thursday on the Delaware Valley's test scores and it noted that 2 of our schools, Gotwals and Cole Manor, "showed the biggest increases" (over last year's scores) of any schools in the entire region. So I had to go look for myself.
If you go to www.paschoolperformance.org, you can look up any public school funded by taxpayer money in PA, regular or charter. It not only gives you test scores but all kinds of demographics, if the teachers are certified, what the promotion and attendance rates are, etc.
I checked out all of our elementary schools, plus Renaissance Academy in Phoenixville where a lot of Norristown students go, and PA Virtual Charter School, a cyber school in King of Prussia. All the schools claimed a 95% or higher attendance rate. All the public schools had a 100% promotion rate--the charter schools don't list a promotion rate.
All of our schools showed at least a percentage point or more gain in at least one area, most in all 3--math, reading and science.
Still, you can't simply compare the charter schools and public schools. Gotwals, for instance, has over 500 students, grades K-4. Renaissance has 999, but they're K-12, 8 more grades. PA Virtual Charter says they have over 2700 students, grades K-12, with 96% attendence. I have to wonder how they could prove that. Anyone can sign on to a computer. Doesn't mean you stick around for lessons, which might explain why PA Virtual Charter had the lowest scores of all the schools I looked up today.
Demographically, Renaissance students are 19%
economically-disadvantaged, compared to 96% at Gotwals. The racial
makeup at Gotwals is 33% black, 54% Hispanic, 4% white, and 9% other
races. Renaissance is 19% black, 3% Hispanic, 63% white, and 14% other.
At Gotwals, 18% of the kids are learning English as a second language.
At Renaissance, only 1% are ESL.
But let's compare their scores.
Gotwals overall ranking was 87.9, with (rounded) scores of 74 in math,
63 in reading and 85 (!) in science. Renaissance's ranking was 92.5,
with 88 math, 86 reading, 77 science. PA Virtual's rank was 63; 57 math,
66 reading, 58 science.
STEM seems to be working, because in science, all but 2 of our regular
elementary schools out-performed Renaissance (I love to think we have a
town full of budding science geeks). Yet all of our schools all seem to
have below average reading scores. The higher ESL ratio would account
for only a part of that. Perhaps we need more town-wide literacy
projects. How about an annual children's book fest? Some reading challenges
with great prizes? Create a culture where reading is more socially
acceptable--where the library is a place parents take their kids
One thing Renaissance has that Gotwals doesn't is a
dropout rate. This isn't just parents taking their kids out of
Renaissance, but the fact that charter schools can kick students out. A
charter school is allowed to say who stays and who goes. They can pick
the best and brightest students and reject the discipline problems or
non-English speakers or kids with learning disabilities. Basically, they
can manipulate their school population until they're assured of
producing good test scores, rejecting any students who'll bring their
scores down. I'm not saying Renaissance does this, but other charters
do. There are no laws in PA saying they can't.
I have to say,
though, I think Gotwals and Cole Manor did a phenomenal job in the
2013-14 school year. And our science scores in most of the rest of the
district were awesome. Now, let's work on reading.
More on schools later this week.