CLARKS SUMMIT- Poor results of Abington Heights High School students on the PVAS (Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System) exam, which measures a student's performance on standardized tests, coupled with their progress, or growth, year to year, was a topic of discussion at the Abington Heights School Board Meeting Oct. 17.
Jim Maria, Abington Heights Education Association President, expressed concern with the validity of the results of the PVAS exam.
PVAS says that Abington Heights is not doing as good a job as it needs to, he said. It says that we're doing a very bad job. Every other indicator (SAT scores, acceptance to colleges, completion to four-year colleges) you look at says Abington Heights is very successful. Either all those other indicators are wrong or PVAS is.
I don't think PVAS works at all as a good indicator of how (well) our district is doing. I think it's a tool to use to help districts that are struggling and I don't think it's an accurate reflection of what we do here. At the high school, they are instituting a new way to evaluate students with the Keystone Exams and I think we're going to see a big change because the kids will have more of an investment. I think it will more accurately reflect what we do.
The state is changing from PSSA to the Keystone's for 11th graders only next year.
The kids will have more investment, Maria said. I think if you look at the state ranks in SAT scores and state ranks in our elementary and middle school PSSA, where there is more investment, I think those are more accurate indicators. When you get to the high school, you're only basing it on one test.
Abington Heights Superintendent of School Dr. Michael Mahon believes the PVAS system is a valuable tool for measuring the progress of students.
I have enormous disagreements with Mr. Maria's assessment of PVAS, Mahon said. Where we diverge greatly is on the overall value and statistical power of value added assessment. It's the only model that predicts where things should be and looks to see where things actually are. The idea of value -added assessment was to take an individual student and the longitudinal data of the student over three years and develop a prediction and then see if that student scored above or below that prediction.
Mahon finds the consistently low scores at the high school level troubling.
The data that has us concerned is that the results reflect hundreds of students over the years, he said. The more numbers you put in over a longer period of time, the more confidence you can draw from the results. I don't want to discount to value of the PVAS model because our elementary schools show tremendous growth. The idea that we can't demonstrate movement in the PVAS system is contradicted by our own results.
At the high school level, our growth is among the very worst in the state of Pennsylvania. We are just above the cyber charter schools where kids don't even go to school, they sit at home.
According to Mahon, the exam has been improved over the years and the high school scores are a major problem.
PVAS has been around in some form since the early 1980s and has been refined, he said. While it's not perfect, it truly is the best statistical model we have available to measure large scale issues.
In my estimation, the PVAS results are a cause for celebration and congratulation at many areas in the district, but a call to action at our high school. We have a catastrophic drop at the high school. We can't have this because our kids are being affected. I blame myself and that's the person to blame. Period.
Board member Jeanne Cadman believes the administration needs to tackle the issue before it become even worse.
I think it's time that we acknowledge the fact that we have an issue and do what we need to do to resolve the issue, she said.
According to Mahon, steps are in place to learn what may be causing the drop in scores at the high school level.
The administration is taking cross sections of students and following their schedules to try to get a sense of what a kid experiences at Abington Heights, he said. We're looking at what they are getting from their teachers in an effort to gather data. One early result we found was that the rubric we were using in 11th grade writing was the wrong rubric. It was not in line with the latest upgrade as to how we should teach.
The board voted to accept a leave of absence for Clarks Summit and Waverly Elementary School Principal Steve Aquilina. His sabbatical will begin Nov. 23 and last one year. The district is currently unsure who will fill his position during that time.
Vice President Warren Acker reported that the Facilities Committee met to discuss a few issues including the condition of the roof at Newton Ransom Elementary School.
There have been some problems with the roof, Acker said. We've made repairs and think everything is all right. The risk is that we could end up replacing the roof and the cost could be as high as $2.5 million, which would come out of our capital reserve. This is something we're working hard to avoid.