Key state tests set to begin in Kane schools

Anxiety is building in the Kane Area School District as student testing begins this week under the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA).Naturally, students are nervous about taking PSSA tests in math, reading, science and writing.But teachers and school administrators also are feeling the tension. That’s because the annual tests determine whether the school district and its three schools are making “annual yearly progress (AYP)” under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program.Natalie Miller-Martini, the school district’s principal for curriculum, said the PSSA tests are “a good benchmark” to “tell us where we’re at” in the education of Kane area children.Based on scores from the 2011 PSSA tests, the school district and all three schools—elementary school, middle school and high school—attained AYP status.But retaining the AYP ranking will be even more difficult this year.To keep AYP, at least 78 percent of the tested students must score at the proficient or advanced level in math. This is a steep jump from the 2011 level of 63 percent.This year, at least 81 percent of the tested students must score at the proficient or advanced level in reading to hit AYP status. The 2011 target was 72 percent.“Making AYP is a goal we need to meet,” Miller-Martini said. “We need to be improving every single year. We want to achieve excellence.”The PSSA tests are for grades 3-5 at the elementary school, the entire middle school (grades 6-8) and juniors in high school.The atmosphere for the PSSA testing is far different that a routine school test or quiz.Teachers are given strict guidelines to follow for the tests, which are locked up in a “secure” storage area. Educational materials posted on classroom walls must be covered during the testing.Without notice, the state Department of Education may send a representative to observe the testing in Kane and other school districts.The tested students as a whole must meet the minimum proficiency levels for the school district and its schools to retain AYP status.However, all subgroups in the school district also must meet the targets.A subgroup is classified as a block of at least 40 students who meet certain criteria.Kane’s three AYP subgroups include:*White students— the vast majority of the school population.*Economically disadvantaged students—those who qualify for free or reduced lunches based on family income. About 45 percent of the tested students are in this category.*Special education students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The school district has about 200 students with IEPs, Miller-Martini said.Virtually all special education students take the same PSSA test as students without IEPs. A very small percentage is given “modified” tests, Miller-Martini said.This is the 10th year for the PSSA tests and Kane has fared well in qualifying for AYP.The high school and middle school have achieved AYP all nine years of the testing. The district in 2003-04 was placed in “warning” status for failing to meet a goal. The elementary school in 2005-06 and again in 2009-10 fell into “warning” status for missing AYP targets.The three “warnings” lasted only one year before AYP status was again achieved through PSSA testing. Schools that continually fail to attain AYP status could face sanctions from the state.While the main purpose of the results of the PSSA test is to determine if schools are making “adequate yearly progress,” they also serve as a “road map” in the development of curriculum, Miller-Martini said.See full article by purchasing the March 12 edition of The Kane Republican.