The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 17, 2013

Penn Cambria at top of class in area schools

CRESSON — Penn Cambria School District ranks highest so far among area districts according to data submitted in the inaugural round of the state Department of Education’s School Performance Profiles.

The profiles replaced the Adequate Yearly Progress system for measuring student development, which relied mostly on the results of Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams, or PSSAs.

Profiles consider additional factors such as graduation rates, attendance rates, promotion rates and programs for increasing the achievement of all students, especially underperformers.

“It’s a rich overview and it provides more of a snapshot of overall student academic performance or progress in a school district,” said Education Department press secretary Tim Eller. “The School Performance Profiles look at a bucket of information.”

Of the area high schools that have submitted complete and accurate data to be profiled, Penn Cambria High School has the highest score: 81.7 out of 100.

Around 600 schools, including eight locally, have yet to submit data as student coding issues leading to incorrect data on Keystone exams were reported.

Profile results are available online at PaSchoolPerformance.org. The site warns that some of the data may be inaccurate.

After the remaining schools’ profiles are released in mid-December, site visitors will be able to compare schools by profiles.

Aside from informing the public of the academic measure of each school, the scores will figure into the Educator Effectiveness Project, which began implementation in July, according to the Department of Education website.

The data also will be used to determine federal accountability status for Title I schools, those whose students come largely from low-income families.

“It gives parents, taxpayers and the community at large a broad overview of how students are learning in their neighborhood,” Eller said.

Key to success

The dismantling of AYP changes the game for performance perception. At Penn Cambria, administrators are high-fiving, and the profiles are allowing schools to shine outside of the standardized testing arena.

“Our vocational students do very well on the (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) exams, and now that counts for something,” said Penn Cambria Superintendent Mary Beth Whited. “Our reading and literature scores for Keystone exams are good. Our attendance rates and our cohort examination rates scored very well for that profile.”

According to an interoffice email sent by high school principal Bill Marshall, the school has been getting requests from administrators in other Cambria County districts to reveal the secret.

“Parents are walking into their offices and asking what is Penn Cambria High School doing that their school is not,” Marshall wrote.

Whited said the AYP system was causing districts to abandon the block scheduling method, which works similar to college course registration. But she said Penn Cambria’s administration saw something like the School Performance Profiles on the horizon and stuck with block scheduling.

“We actually felt that that might be a strength of our high school, and certainly the ability to schedule in one semester pre-algebra and in the second semester schedule a Keystone math class,” she said. “We’re able to extend the amount of math instruction students get each year.”

But Whited said that above all, she credits the school’s score to its educators.

“The one thing that makes a difference in any school is having good people – good teachers, good administrators,” she said. “That's really the core of a school's success.”

Other high-scoring local high schools include Windber Area at 81.5 and North Star at 81.3.

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