7 Bethlehem Area Schools on List of State's Worst

Broughal Middle School and 6 elementary schools in Department of Education's bottom 15 percent. School director challenges validity of results.


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
  • Freemansburg

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.

Staberdearth August 01, 2012 at 10:36 AM
I am surprised that Buchanan elementary did not make the list. It exhibited precipitous decreases in scores after this happened. What was that? We seem to only ever want to lick around the issue, never fully address it head on. Why is that? Everything done these days that hints at this as one of the root causes is considered of the usual name calling regimen. How is that?
heather August 01, 2012 at 03:05 PM
My daughter goes to Thomas Jefferson. Would I be eligible to apply for grants?? If so, how would I go about that? Any push in the right direction would be most helpful. While I think the staff at TJ is great, I simply don't feel like my daughter is challenged there. As parents, we want nothing but the best for our children, but sadly I simply cannot afford private school, and it's difficult to get into charter schools. I have been trying for the past two years to get my daughter into Lehigh Valley Academy... Any help would be wonderful. Thanks!!
Daryl Nerl (Editor) August 01, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thomas Jefferson pupils would not be eligible under Act 85, as I understand it, since Thomas Jefferson did not make this list. I couldn't say whether your daughter might be eligible under some other program.
R August 01, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Most private schools have financial aid and scholarships. You should look into it.
John G. Lewis August 02, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Please remember, people, we have Sayre Field ready to go, available. And we can throw cash in with the deal.... "When you're ready to go, we're ready to go." - J. G. Lewis '90
John G. Lewis August 02, 2012 at 12:59 AM
What I meant by that people, is, although the administrators at my alma mater may have slightly different ideas, Lehigh should be ready, and *quite willing*, to help out Bethlehem schools by making Sayre Field, a large10 acre lot near the top of South Mountain, *available to the public schools of the city*, for building upon and using. Transfer, that is. We would get, in exchange, Broughal Middle School, and all associated land. The lot the Middle School is presently situated on - and newly constructed, after all [unfortunately so (perhaps).] - is a lot that is too small for a Middle School anyway, in this day. The BASD could so well use the extra 6 acres at Sayre: a perfect setting for a Middle school. But 10 years back, many people, on both sides, were either so dimwitted, or stubborn, so as to not realize the truth - *which would have served both sides so very well* - and so then a deal, an exchange, was stopped. But mistakes in the past do not necessarily prevent good future decisions The failure to make an exchange, discussed, but never truly offered, and a serious mistake on Lehigh's part, could, *and should*, be done in the future. Something to look forward to - for both sides. And we can help your side out, by giving you some, *or all*, of the money to build the new school. [We would be getting the Middle School, just constructed!] Something to consider, gentlemen, something to seriously consider. - J. G. Lewis '90
careless fills August 08, 2012 at 07:07 PM
"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." Bad logic on the part of Mr. Roy. Just because you made some progress doesn't change the fact that you are in the bottom 15%.
Jenny Estok October 13, 2012 at 09:28 PM
There will always be a fifteen percent....logically speaking.....and they met goal.


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