EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, August 15, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    2007-2008 PSSA Results
    - Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
    Pennsylvania Bulletin
    Research and Reports
    EPLC News

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.


    2007-2008 PSSA RESULTS

    Student achievement in Pennsylvania is continuing to rise in every subject for all grade levels and for all ethnic, racial and economic groups since 2002, according to new state reading, writing and math assessment (PSSA) results released by PDE this week.  Test scores for the 2007-08 school year show gains in closing the achievement gap while making simultaneous improvement for all students.  According to PDE, the proportion of students performing on grade level in 5th, 8th and 11th grades increased from 52% to 66% in math (between the 2001-02 to 2007-08 school years) and increased from 58% to 68% in reading during that same period.  The achievement gap narrowed by an average of 26% for African American students, 20% for Latino students and 23% for low-income students.

    While aggregate student results continue to show positive academic gains, the number of schools making adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the state’s accountability system declined this year.  AYP is based on academic achievement, test participation, graduation rate and attendance rate.  Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak attributed the decline to an increased standard for achieving AYP that went into effect this year.  In order to make AYP, schools now must have at least 63% of students proficient or better in reading and 56% proficient or better in math, compared to last year’s targets of 54% in reading and 45% in math.  The AYP system also recognizes schools that did not meet these absolute targets, but did reduce the number of students not on grade level by at least 10% or who have scores that fall within a certain sampling error.  In 2007-08, 92% of Pennsylvania’s school districts and 72% of schools made AYP.  For complete AYP results, see www.paayp.com.

    Zahorchak said special attention is needed in two areas to address schools not meeting state academic performance targets – under-funding and low-performing high schools.  According to PDE, three quarters of schools that did not make AYP have an adequacy funding shortfall of at least $2,000 per pupil.  Further, 68% of students scoring in the lowest performance level (below basic) attend school districts with a shortfall of at least $2,000 per pupil, and school districts with the largest funding gaps have an average of 78% more students below grade level than districts that have adequate funding.  This is the first time the PDE has been able to specifically correlate AYP results to the underfunding of school districts as defined by the 2007 Costing-Out Study.  Zahorchak also called for special attention to high schools, given that more than half of Pennsylvania’s high schools did not make AYP this year and two out of every five Pennsylvania high school students performed below grade level.

    Pennsylvania currently assesses all students in grades 3-8 and 11 in math and reading and grades 5, 8 and 11 in writing.  In 2007-08, the state also administered a science assessment in grades 4, 8 and 11.  Because the science assessment was given later in the year, results from that exam are not yet available.



    State House

  • Pennsylvania is facing a potential $11 million cut in federal funds that support afterschool activities.  Members of the House Children and Youth Committee said they will draft a letter urging Congress to maintain funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers after the Committee learned of the potential cut during its August 5 hearing on afterschool programs.  The Committee heard from representatives of law enforcement, employers, program providers, and student participants who touted the documented positive impacts of afterschool programs on reducing student dropout rates, reducing juvenile crime, and reducing teen alcohol and tobacco use, as well as improving student achievement.  Click here for testimony about the importance of afterschool programs presented to the Committee.

    Pennsylvania soon will know more about the status of its afterschool programs when the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee completes its report on afterschool opportunities in the Commonwealth.  Recently commissioned by the PA House of Representatives with the adoption of House Resolution 824, the report will review the availability, type and locations of afterschool programs, identify geographic gaps where affordable and accessible afterschool programs are unavailable, provide statistical information on children currently being served, examine costs associated with various high-quality programs, and examine public and private funding sources.
  • The House Children and Youth Committee also held an informational meeting on education foundations last week.  President of the Mid-Atlantic Consortium of Education Foundations (MACEF) Bob New said there are currently 185 school district foundations in Pennsylvania.  New’s organization provides technical assistance to school district foundations in developing fund-raising models, developing an organizational infrastructure and building endowments.  In addition to private and alumni-based fundraising, Pennsylvania’s school district foundations also benefit from the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, through which businesses receive tax credits for donations to scholarship and educational improvement organizations.  According to New, 91 education foundations received $3.044 million in EITC funds to support educational enrichment programs in 2007-08.

    The Committee also heard from representatives of the Phoenixville Community Education Foundation which, like many school district foundations, raises money to fund programs on the district’s wish list that are not supported by the district’s regular budget.  Programs supported by the Phoenixville Foundation range from an annual computer and technology fair to middle school student leadership efforts to programs that increase awareness and motivate economically disadvantaged students to pursue higher education.  Click here for materials about education foundations presented to the Committee.

  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

    The Department of Environmental Protection has announced recipients of environmental education grants awarded to schools and environmental groups statewide.  Some grants will support schools in implementing the state’s academic standards for environment and ecology.



    PDE has made available the location cost metric for each county for 2008-2009, which is used in determining a school district’s basic education funding.  See the August 2 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin for more information.



    Child Trends has released a new research brief focused on “Strategies for Improving Out-of-School Programs in Rural Communities”The publication provides strategies for building coalitions to help with transportation, identifying potential funding sources, increasing the number of trained staff members, using existing volunteer organizations to recruit staff, and maximizing resources.  The brief also highlights a successful afterschool program serving the migrant community in Adams County, Pennsylvania.



    Joseph Torsella has been named Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education by Governor Ed Rendell.  Torsella, who joined the Board earlier this year, serves as president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.  Torsella succeeds Karl Girton, who resigned from the Board earlier this month.



    The class for the 2008-2009 Education Policy and Fellowship Program has now been filled and now additional applications are being accepted. 



    Next week…

  • The Pennsylvania Association of Federal Program Coordinators holds its Title I Statewide Parent Conference on August 17-20 at Seven Springs in Champion, PA.

  • The State Board of Education holds a public hearing on the proposed merger of the Center Area and Monaca School Districts on August 18 in Monaca, PA.

  • The State Board of Education holds a public hearing on draft revisions to the State Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening and Mathematics on August 21 in Clarion.

  • For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

        EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

        The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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