Seven Bethlehem Area schools, including six elementary schools and , were included last week on a Pennsylvania Department of Education list of low-achieving schools.
In all, 414 schools were included – all of them scoring among the bottom 15 percent of public schools in math and reading standardized tests.
The Bethlehem Area elementary schools making the list are:
- Fountain Hill
Under Pennsylvania Act 85, students who live within the affected schools’ attendance areas — and whose families meet income guidelines — can apply for scholarships of up to $8,500, or up to $15,000 for special education students, to go to school elsewhere.
Bethlehem Area Superintendent Joseph J. Roy told The Express-Times that he was shocked at the schools' inclusion on the list, given that five of the seven schools actually hit their Adequate Yearly Progress goals under No Child Left Behind.
“We’re showing kids were making progress,” Roy said. “That’s why it was surprising. It depresses morale because people have worked really hard and gotten results.”
What do you think? Are the seven schools on the Department of Education's list failing Bethehem area children? Tell us in the comments.
Roy isn’t the only district official who found the news shocking. School Director Basilio Bonilla wrote a letter challenging “the validity of the Act 85 results,” pointing out that licensed charter schools are not included in the assessment and calling on the region’s state legislators to investigate how the Department of Education arrived at its results.
Here is the text of Bonilla’s letter:
I am writing to you today as a member of the Bethlehem Area School District’s Board of Directors. This letter is my personal feeling and observations and is not a statement by the board but rather an individual’s perspective.
On Wednesday, July 25, 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Education in accordance with “Act 85” released a list containing the lowest-achieving 15% of elementary schools and lowest-achieving 15% of secondary schools based on combined math and reading Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores from the 2010-11 school year.
Please note that while school districts from all across the commonwealth were included in this report, the report excludes career and technology centers as well as brick-and- mortar and cyber charter schools. By doing so, this report fails to show the failures of the brick-andcyber charter schools.
In my opinion, this report unfairly pits public education against brick-and-mortar and mortar and cyber charter schools while attempting to exploit the struggles in public education.
In the Bethlehem Area School District, seven schools have been classified by Act 85 as “low achieving”; (1 middle school & 6 elementary schools). Ironically, five of the seven schools listed as “low achieving” under Act 85 had actually made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2011.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) does have an effective tool to measure student growth from year to year - the tool is referred to as the PA Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS). This tool measures a school's success in helping students achieve at least a year's worth of growth in a year's worth of time.
PVAAS is a fair measure of a school's effectiveness because no matter where a student begins, it measures the progress made by that student in that given year. It is clear by the recent report by the PDE in accordance with Act 85, that (Act 85) ignores value-added measures of a school's effectiveness and instead uses the static measure of PSSA scaled scores.
As a result, schools with greater diversity and lower socioeconomic status students made the Act 85 list - with no attention given to the annual growth students make in those schools.
As a member of the Bethlehem Area School Board of Directors, I officially am calling on our state’s legislators to investigate the current assessment measure by which Act 85 currently ranks schools. It is important to find a more appropriate and fair measuring system.
Finally, as an independent member of the BASD Board of Directors, I challenge the validity of the Act 85 results.