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At School Board Meeting, Concerns About Test-Score Trends

Board members and residents wanted to know how recent declines among some students can be turned around.

Lower Merion school administrators on Monday night presented a variety of recent standardized-test score trends to the Board of School Directors, some of which elicited concern from several board members and residents.

Director of secondary education Wagner Marseille showed a series of statistical graph depicting PSSA test scores for students in different grades. Some graphs compared one grade's performances year by year, while others tracked the same class of students through several grades, in both math and reading.

For the 2011-2012, in all grades and subjects, the district outperformed the state average. Minority students made gains in some metrics, most notably in the eighth-grade reading test, where all ethnic groups were bunched more tightly than ever before at the top of the performance scale.

However, the data also showed a year-to-year dropoff overall for high school test-takers. And in the slide that piqued the most interest from observers, the graph showed that 2008-2009's eighth-grade black and Hispanic student populations performed far better in reading than those same students did in 2011-2012, in 11th grade.

"I'm very disturbed in these results," Superintendent Chris McGinley said at the board meeting. He emphasized the need for teachers, staff and administrators to keep the "achievement gap" closed among different student demographics: "We're intervening not because the child has failed, but because we have failed. In terms of effort, there's a lot of effort, but effort needs to translate into results."

Marseille said administrators are becoming more involved and monitoring more classes. He also cautioned against reading too much into a "snapshot" of test data.

One resident, Loraine Carter, who was part of a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the district that argued minority students were being disproportionately steered to special education, told the board, "We've been asking you since 1997 to do something about the achievement gap."

Board president Diane DiBonaventuro said, "It's not like we haven’t been trying. This is a nationwide problem. We put forward initiatives, we see if they work, if they don’t, we try something new. It's not a matter of kids not getting any help."

Other board members asked for administrators to come back to a later meeting with more digestible statistics and recommendations about how to improve testing performance.

Said McGinley, "There are elements of the (strategic plan) we think are working and will produce outcomes, and there are areas where we need to change the strategies."

Find full results from every Pennsylvania school district at the Department of Education website. And from the Patch archives, read about the district's performance on PSSAs in 2010-2011.

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