EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, September 23, 2005

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • This week, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) from the 2004-2005 school year. Except for a slight decline in eighth grade reading, students improved in both math and reading at all grade levels tested. This is the first year PSSA results were reported for third graders. The percentage of students statewide either advanced or proficient was:

    3rd grade math - 81%
    3rd grade reading - 68%

    5th grade math - 69%
    5th grade reading - 64.2%

    8th grade math - 62.9%
    8th grade reading - 64%

    11th grade math - 50.8%
    11th grade reading - 65%

    The Department also released its annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) determinations for schools and school districts based on the 2004-05 PSSA results, as required by No Child Left Behind. In order to make AYP, schools and districts must meet certain proficiency targets for all students and for student subgroups (racial and ethnic minorities, special education students, students with limited English proficiency and economically disadvantaged students); those that miss the targets are subject to a variety of interventions. This year, the targets for making AYP were increased to 45% of students advanced or proficient in math and 54% of students advanced or proficient in reading, up from 35% in math and 45% in reading last year. The targets will increase again in 2007-08 and continue to gradually increase until 2014. NCLB requires 100% of students to be proficient by 2014. In addition to student proficiency targets, in order to make AYP schools and districts also must show improvement or 90% in attendance (for schools without a graduating class), improvement or 80% in graduation (for high schools), and 95% PSSA participation.

    2,311 schools met AYP in 2005, down from 2,388 in 2004 (when schools were being judged by different targets). 106 schools were identified as making progress, 281 schools were given warning status, 44 schools were placed in school improvement-1, 131 schools were placed in school improvement-2, and 119 schools are in some level of corrective action.

    308 of the state's 501 school districts met AYP for 2005. 141 districts were identified as making progress, 17 were given warning status, 6 were placed in school improvement-1, 22 were placed in school improvement-2, and 5 are in some level of corrective action.

    PSSA and AYP results are available at www.pde.state.pa.us/a_and_t/cwp/view.asp?a=3&q=115258.

  • A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement between the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and plaintiffs in a ten-year law suit addressing services for special education students (Gaskin v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). A proposed settlement agreement was reached in December but required judicial approval before taking effect. The agreement requires PDE to establish a monitoring system to hold school districts accountable for providing services to students with disabilities in regular classrooms. For complete terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, see www.pde.state.pa.us/special_edu/cwp/view.asp?a=177&Q=109539.

  • The House Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom held its initial meeting on Monday. The Select Committee was established by House Resolution 177 of 2005, which calls for an investigation into "the academic atmosphere and the degree to which faculty have the opportunity to instruct and students have the opportunity to learn in an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth and the expression of independent thought" at state public higher education institutions. David French, president of the non-profit, non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), provided members with an overview of First Amendment responsibilities as they apply to colleges and universities. French cautioned the Committee that its investigation should focus on institutions, not individual professors, and on unlawful acts, not constitutionally lawful acts that make some uncomfortable. He said misunderstandings of academic freedom offenses often occur when individuals register complaints of offensive speech as violations of academic freedom. French said institutions may not regulate speech based on subjective listener offense.

    Most publicly-funded institutions in Pennsylvania have adopted speech codes that unconstitutionally censor students' freedom of speech and are either vague or overbroad, said French. According to FIRE, speech codes are "any university regulation or policy that substantially prohibits constitutionally protected expression" and are often found in university regulations related to harassment, discrimination, multiculturalism, tolerance and loyalty oaths. Such policies typically were developed to provide a comfortable atmosphere at institutions that were growing more diverse. French said 16 of the 18 four-year public institutions in Pennsylvania currently have at least one policy that "clearly and substantially" restricts freedom of speech; the other two institutions have policies that could be used to ban or regulate speech. A Shippensburg University speech code was struck down in court in 2003 because it violated the freedom of conscience clause of the First Amendment. According to French, Shippensburg is the only publicly-funded university in Pennsylvania that has experienced a legal challenge to a speech code. French said his organization receives fewer complaints about academic freedom violations from Pennsylvania relative to other states. For more information about FIRE and speech codes in Pennsylvania, see www.thefire.org/index.php/states/PA.

    Monday's meeting was the first in a series of hearings to be held across the state. The Select Committee will issue a report of its findings by November 30, 2006.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on changes to the law governing community colleges, enacted by Act 46 of 2005. The new law represents the most substantive and comprehensive community college policy changes since 1964. The Act established a new formula for funding community colleges (including a new economic development stipend for high priority occupation programs), created a separate line item for capital expenses, revised the colleges' auditing process, and increased accountability by instituting annual performance reporting requirements. For a more detailed description of the changes made by Act 46, see the July 19 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook/July19,2005.html. The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges currently has four work groups working collaboratively with the Departments of Education and Labor and Industry focused on implementation issues surrounding four subjects: Economic Development Stipend; Capital; Audits; and Data. Issues include the identification of programs with high instructional costs, establishment of an application and approval process for the economic development stipend, and distribution of capital funds among the colleges.

  • The Senate Veteran's Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee approved legislation that extends the eligibility period for receiving student assistance grants for Pennsylvania National Guard members who serve active duty in a combat zone. Senate Bill 358 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Similar legislation - House Bill 1259 - was passed by the House on May 3 and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

  • Correction...Testimony provided on House Bill 1617, referred to in the September 16 EPLC Education Notebook, was provided by Harriet Dichter on behalf of both the Department of Education and the Department of Public Welfare, not just DPW as stated.

  • All legislation from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including bills cited in this Notebook, can be found at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm.

    National Education Policy Activity

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has established a Commission on the Future of Higher Education to lead a national discussion on postsecondary education. The Commission "is charged with developing a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education that will meet the needs of America's diverse population and also address the economic and workforce needs of the country's future." It will hold public hearings around the country to gather input on key issues, such as what skills students need to succeed in the 21st century and how to ensure higher education is accessible and affordable for all students. Spellings said she is not advocating a greater federal role in higher education but, given that more than 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require some postsecondary education and the large investment the federal government makes in higher education, it is imperative "to examine how we can get the most out of our national investment." Charles Miller, former chair of the Board of Regents for the University of Texas System will chair the 19-member Commission. Dr. Robert Zemsky who heads The Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania is a member. For a complete list of Commission members and more details, see www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2005/09/09192005.html.

  • Research and Reports


  • The National Center for Education Statistics recently released two studies that evaluate the use of online technology to conduct math and writing assessments. The math study "addresses issues related to measurement, equity, efficiency, and operations." The writing study explores "how computer delivery affects the measurement of NAEP performance-based writing skills," as well as the feasibility of using automatic tools to score writing assessments. The reports also look at student attitudes toward and access to computers. A third analysis focused on Problem-Solving in Technology-Rich Environments is in the works. To learn more about the Center's Technology-Based Assessment Project, see http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/tbaproject.asp.

  • Other

  • Next week...Goods Schools Pennsylvania hosts an information session on Rep. Nicholas Micozzie's Successful School Budget proposal on Tuesday, September 27, in Lancaster. The House Local Government Committee meets Tuesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday. EPLC hosts the second annual Edward Donley Education Policy Leadership Awards Dinner on Wednesday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

To return to the EPLC Education Notebook homepage, click here.

To return to The Education Policy and Leadership Center homepage, click here.