Rebound

Scores are up, the low-achieving designation is gone, and new motivational bulletin board material is being posted at Youngsville High School.

In July, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) classified Youngsville as one of the lowest-achieving 15 percent of schools in the state based on 2011 standardized testing.

Based on the results of the 2012 tests and a letter from PDE last week, the school has shed that classification. The improvement is due to hard work and dedication, Principal Dr. Darrell Jaskolka said on Thursday.

“I need to compliment the staff and the student body for taking on this challenge and for their hard work,” Jaskolka said. “Our pride and our professionalism was hurt.”

“The students have bought in fully to showing the pride they have in themselves and in their school,” Assistant Principal Philip Knapp said.

Jaskolka said test scores at Youngsville went from 48.1 percent to 61 percent proficient in math from 2011 to 2012 and from 53.2 to 59.7 percent proficient in language arts.

Those improvements represent a big step in the right direction. “Those numbers allowed us to be removed from the classification,” Jaskolka said. “We’re still not satisfied; there’s room for growth.”

A copy of the front-page Times Observer story last July announcing Youngsville as a low-achieving school was laminated and put up in every classroom as motivational material, Jaskolka said. Copies of this story the story announcing the school’s success in climbing out of that designation will replace them.

School officials took several steps to improve test scores and remove the low-achieving stigma.

“One of the first things we did was take an in-depth look at the scores,” Jaskolka said. “When your arm or leg hurts, the doctor doesn’t operate on your entire body. When you look at data, you’re identifying areas of need.”

After identifying the needs, teachers could focus some effort on “areas of academic weakness,” he said.

The work on those areas went beyond the math and language arts classes. “We didn’t think just math and language arts,” Jaskolka said. “We asked all teachers if they could embed with their curriculum math and language arts concepts.”

A focus on vocabulary provided a quick and meaningful language arts boost for any class. Having students convert test scores into percentages was a simple example of including math in any class.

Providing ways that each classroom could participate in the effort to improve allowed all of the teachers to take ownership in the testing, Jaskolka said.

Faculty meetings turned into in-service meetings. Teachers included reading strategies that came out of those meetings into their portfolio goals, he said.

All juniors were assigned to homerooms with math teachers. “Once a week they would do a problem of the day,” Jaskolka said. The questions focused attention on problems like those the students would see on the tests.

The questions of the day became more frequent later in the school year as the testing approached. Juniors had access to math teachers and exposure to concepts from the standardized math tests for 20 to 25 minutes every school day.

Students at the Warren County Career Center, who missed homeroom in transit, had access to additional help at that facility.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) pointed out strengths and weaknesses, but the Classroom Diagnostic Test (CDT) gave that data more frequently. “That would give us another benchmark to look at with regard to strengths and weaknesses,” Jaskolka said. “When a student takes the CDT, I have the results immediately.”

Students took that test in September, November, and February.

Putting that information in the hands of the teachers allows targeted instruction. “They know where to strategically gear their instruction,” Jaskolka said. “They can pinpoint their instruction to deal with those needs.”

The use of daily assessment increased – “pre- and post- assessments on a daily basis,” he said. “The pre- tells you how much kids know. The post- tells you what you need to do tomorrow.”

Sometimes, students don’t catch on the first time.

“We really promoted and pushed re-teaching until mastery,” Jaskolka said.

All of those steps contributed to the test improvements, and administrators hope they will continue to improve. “We are doing all those things,” Jaskolka said.

As the Warren County School District’s high schools move away from the PSSA test to the Keystone Exams, students will be tested more frequently.

The gap in standardized testing between eighth grade and 11th grade left the schools without standardized feedback on a group of students and students without the continuity of taking those tests for years, Knapp said.

“It’s a continual process,” he said of student effort and faculty commitment.

Under the Keystone system, students are eligible to take their first high school tests as early as eighth grade. Students in algebra “could knock that one out” before beginning their high school years, Jaskolka said.

With the literature and biology tests available to students in 10th grade, those who score proficient in all three “can be done with your assessment at the end of your sophomore year,” he said.

Students who do not score in the proficient or advanced range before the end of their junior years will have a “project-based assessment” added to their graduation requirements, Jaskolka said.

There are no schools on the list in Warren, Forest, McKean, and Elk counties.

Regional schools that are in the lowest 15 percent for 2013-2014 include: East End and Neason Hill elementary schools in Crawford Central School District; Franklin middle and Franklin high schools in Franklin Area School District; 12 schools in the Erie City School District; and Northwestern Senior High School in the Northwestern School District.