Dr. Lutz Defends Baldwin-Whitehall in Face of Local School Rankings
'It's more than meets the eye.'
Calling the Baldwin-Whitehall School District's recent performance rankings in the Pittsburgh Business Times "more than meets the eye," B-W's Assistant to the Superintendent for Elementary Education Dr. Randal A. Lutz spoke to the public during a school board meeting on Wednesday night in defense of the district.
The rankings were not kind to Baldwin-Whitehall, showing a drop to 56th place out of 105 western Pennsylvania public school districts, down all the way from 39th in 2008, but Lutz aimed to "dig a little bit deeper (into the rankings) than just on the surface."
Lutz, who will become the district's overall superintendent this July, pointed out that B-W improved on its ranking in more grade levels than those that saw their rankings fall.
"While there (are) some areas that we're not pleased with," he said, "there are areas of growth. But that doesn't tell the whole story, either."
The publication bases its overall rankings on how districts perform in Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams, but Lutz cited the Pittsburgh Business Times' "overachiever" rankings this year as a positive for Baldwin-Whitehall.
"We look at three years of scores (for the overall rankings)," the publication says on its website, "with the current year given the most weight."
However, the "overachiever" ranking weighs in economic factors.
As the publication also says on its website: "The (overall) rankings in this guide are based on standardized test scores and answer the question, 'Which school or district has the highest-scoring students?' This (overachiever) ranking … answer(s) the question, 'Which school districts do better than expectations based upon economics?'"
The publication continues, "It is widely acknowledged that the economic situation of a student is one of the strongest predictors of how well a student will perform academically—a low percentage of economically disadvantaged students generally results in a high percentage of top performances on the state's standardized tests.
"This (overachiever) rank takes the (overall) rank and adds the percentage of students in the district eligible for free and reduced lunch into the formula. A district finishing high on this (overachiever) rank is smashing expectations, and any district above the median point is exceeding expectations."
While Baldwin-Whitehall still finished in the lower half of western Pennsylvania's overachiever rankings this year (70th), that is an improvement on its 73rd from 2011 and 88th in 2010.
The Pittsburgh Business Times gives Baldwin an economics ranking of 45th in western Pennsylvania, stating that the district has 31.5 percent of its students who qualify for a free or reduced lunch program. It calls those students "economically disadvantaged."
Lutz said that the average economics ranking for the top 10 overall ranked local school districts is 9.9. (Baldwin-Whitehall Patch research shows that this number is actually 8.9, which furthers the assertion that better economics leads to better standardized testing scores).
"Our economic rank this year was 45th," Lutz said. "In 2010, just a short period of time ago, our rate was 26.7 (percent), so clearly, the recent economic times have had an impact on Baldwin-Whitehall."
Lutz said that those economic conditions have played a factor in causing Baldwin-Whitehall's overall rankings to slip.
He said that the Pittsburgh Business Times' overall rankings compare school districts' PSSA scores "on an apples-to-apples basis when they're not apples to apples."
He continued, "We are not where we expect to be, and we must continue to improve. That's a given. We don't want to be ranked 70th (in the overachiever category)."
B-W School Board member Nancy Sciulli DiNardo echoed Lutz's sentiment that their district has many obstacles to overcome but added, "I don't want that to be a crutch. We have to help our teachers be able to deliver to help those (economically disadvantaged) kids. They just need a little bit more attention."
Said Lutz, "It can help us explain (the rankings), but it's not an excuse."
Added current Superintendent Dr. Lawrence C. Korchnak, "We can't believe that these kids can't learn."
Korchnak and board member Nancy Lee Crowder also called attention to the large number of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students in Baldwin-Whitehall.
"Any ESL student, after a year or two," Korchnak said, "is going to be tested the same way as a kid who's native here, and that is not fair. But that's the law."
Board member Larry Pantuso, however, cautioned his colleagues on possibly stereotyping ESL students as those who are bringing down the district's rankings.
"A lot of the kids, at least that I know," Pantuso said, "who are in this district that came up through ESL or whatever, they're pretty bright kids who may be carrying some of our typical kids who are born and raised here and bringing their averages up.
"I really think we should probably have the facts to look at."
Lutz acknowledged that, some recent time ago, the district's valedictorian was an ESL student.
What are your thoughts on the rankings? District officials' responses?
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch over the next few days for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's school board meeting.
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