Fewer schools make the grade in Pa.

August 14, 2008 12:11:11 PM PDT
Fewer Pennsylvania public schools are meeting the state's academic expectations because more students are being required to pass math and reading tests, education officials said Thursday. More than 2,100 schools - 69 percent of all public schools - made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act during the 2007-08 school year, according to the state's annual academic achievement report. That compares to 2,300 schools, or 74 percent, in the previous year.

But state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said the report also shows significant improvement over the past several years in the number of students who have mastered the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math and reading tests. Those scores are one factor that determines whether schools are making progress.

Zahorchak noted that since 2002, student achievement has improved statewide, with seven in 10 students on average meeting the standards.

"We have more kids than ever before achieving ... across all grade levels, and we're quite proud of that," Zahorchak said during a briefing with reporters.

The federal law requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Pennsylvania now requires at least 63 percent of all students to be proficient or better in reading, and 56 percent to be proficient or better in math. Those targets were 54 percent for reading and 45 percent for math in the 2006-07 school year.

Zahorchak attributed the decline in the number of schools making progress to the more stringent passing requirements for the tests.

In some cases, schools can still be classified as making adequate progress even if they fall short of those goals. The state allows exceptions for schools whose results fall within a certain sampling error and for those that reduce the number of failing students by at least 10 percent, among other methods.

Department officials did not have a breakdown of how many schools met achievement targets under an exception.

School districts administer the math and reading tests to students in grades 3-8 and grade 11.

Attendance, graduation and test-participation rates are also used to measure a school's progress. Pennsylvania requires a 90 percent attendance rate for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and an 80 percent high-school graduation rate.

In grades in which the state assessment test is administered, the state requires a 95 percent test-participation rate.

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