B-W School Board Hears Tough News Regarding Progress Levels

The school district falls to the state's 'Warning' level.

A year after seeing , the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board absorbed the sobering news on Wednesday night that only half of those schools made AYP this year.

Assistant Superintendent Denise Sedlacek made the announcement to the school board at its September agenda meeting, revealing that and schools failed to make AYP and that the B-W School District itself has been saddled with a "Warning" tag by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

Specifically, Whitehall Elementary hit 17 out of its 19 AYP targets, while Baldwin High hit 12 out of its 15. The B-W schools that made AYP were (13 out of 13 targets) and (29 out of 29). ( students are not tested for AYP.)

In accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the PDE determines AYP performance based on students' scores each year in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams (PSSAs). According to the PDE website, NCLB requires that all students reach at least a proficient level in the subjects of reading/language arts and mathematics by 2014. School districts and schools must show adequate yearly progress on several measurable indicators, including attendance or graduation rate, academic performance and test participation.

Reading scores at Whitehall seemed especially hard to swallow for B-W's school directors, as those scores went from 79.2-percent proficiency for all Whitehall students in 2011 down to 74.3 percent in that same large category in 2012. Meanwhile, the AYP standard rose from 72 percent in 2011 to 81 percent this year as it makes its way to 91 percent in 2013 and to 100 percent in 2014.

A sub-group of Whitehall reading students with individualized education programs (IEPs) went from 65.5-percent proficiency in 2011 down to 50.0 percent in 2012, and economically disadvantaged Whitehall students fell from 67.4-percent proficiency in reading to 60.5 percent. (Students labeled as "economically disadvantaged" are those who qualify for a free or reduced lunch program.)

Because of its scores, Whitehall has fallen to the PDE's "School Improvement II" level, meaning that the must now offer supplemental education services to offset poor AYP there.

Baldwin High, at a less severe "Warning" level, has another year to achieve AYP before it is subject to consequences.

Baldwin students' overall reading scores fell from 76.5-percent proficiency in 2011 to 75.6 percent this year. And Baldwin's economically disadvantaged students went from 55.7-percent proficiency in reading to 41.0 percent.

The numbers, which have not yet been published on the PDE website, drew sharp reactions from the school board.

"I think it's actually embarrassing, myself," board member Larry Pantuso said after hearing Sedlacek's presentation. "You (Sedlacek) are , but what's concerning to me is the majority of people in administration have been part of this district for quite a while. And I'm not pointing fingers at anybody ... but whatever role they were in, (they) have ownership of this problem. And it is a problem.

"I don't think we have the most diverse student population in the county. We certainly don't have it in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And yet, we have these issues.

"The board has never been restrictive in providing anything educationally to the teachers that I can ever recall as a resident or as a board member, so something—somewhere—is awry. And I guess, unfortunately, for everybody who sits in administration, you've got a short time to analyze it and get it fixed 'cause this can't go on.

"I think it's absolutely inexcusable. Everybody in the commonwealth plays by the same rules. We might not like the rules, and we might not like the way the game's played. However, that's the game we've gotta play."

Pantuso did not say that a diverse student population could lead to poor scores. Nevertheless, the diversity in Baldwin-Whitehall's student population as not being an excuse for poor scores is supported at least in part by the district's AYP numbers.

For example, neither Whitehall Middle nor Baldwin High had enough non-white PSSA-takers or "English Language Learner" PSSA-takers last year to warrant AYP assessments in those sub-groups for either reading or math.

However, in , the Pittsburgh Business Times calculated that 31.5 percent of Baldwin-Whitehall students qualify as being economically disadvantaged. The publication states, "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."

On the positive side, every qualifying Harrison Middle and Paynter Elementary reading and math AYP score improved from last year to this year, including jumps for black math students at Harrison from 47.8-percent proficiency to 69.8 percent and for economically disadvantaged Harrison math students from 62.4 percent to 71.0 percent.

"While there's some red (poor numbers) up there," Sedlacek said, "there's a lot of purple (good numbers)."

Board member George L. Pry pointed out that making AYP grows harder and harder for school districts every year as the AYP standard moves toward 100-percent proficiency.

"I'm not defending or pointing fingers either way," Pry said, "but the issue is this is not a stable target. This is a target that is continuing to grow. We are moving up the ladder, but we are not moving up, in some cases, as quickly as we should.

"I am not downgrading the fact that we need to be better, but I'm also not gonna lose sleep over the fact that we're making improvements (but) just not quick enough."

Many board members, such as Nancy Lee Crowder and Kevin J. Fischer, nonetheless stressed the importance of making AYP at all schools regardless of the district's circumstances.

"We've made a lot of effort to make this school district look good," Crowder said. "We need to be good."

Fischer worried that people will dwell on the district's poor numbers rather than the good, or even great, ones.

"While we can all search for the silver linings and say, 'There's a lot of 'purple,'' it's the 'red' that is gonna be what's picked up, what's gonna really define this district," he said. "When the (Pittsburgh) Business Times comes up with its great list, we're gonna be .

"The flagship school is the high school, and when you see that 'Warning,' it's too late, because (for) those kids, there's no tomorrow. The elementary, the middle, we've got time. The high school, there's no tomorrow for those.

"One year (at AYP) every five or six is not cutting it for this school district. With the amount of tax dollars that people pay to run this school district, they're expecting adequate yearly progress."

Board President John B. Schmotzer instructed Superintendent Dr. Randal A. Lutz to present ideas at the next board meeting (Wednesday, Sept. 12, at at 7:30 p.m.) for improving the district's scores.

Thoughts on how to improve? Do the district's schools need more parental involvement? Better instruction? More resources?

Share your thoughts with your neighbors in the comments section below.


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Jean Smith September 08, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Margaret, I have to agree with you and Fed Up, I own 14 homes in Whitehall and Baldwin Township and it is sick what I pay in taxes to the school district. I also have a son at the High School and says it is a joke there. Kids still smoking pot in the school, one did get busted the other day, smoking in the bathroom. Now they are giving our students crappy lunches. They aren't given book for classes now as more than one class has to share the books, and they have homework to do in these books. It is great for the kids who have computers and internet but what happens to the ones that don't. They want this school to succeed but yet take money from our Children Education to hire Deans of Sports, getting rid of a school nurse, worried about planting flowers, fixing fields when the money from our taxes should be used to teach our students. Plus they are feeding our students crap for lunch, never have I packed my son a lunch and he usually bought 2 a day, but he started packing after the second day of school. I was given the heehaw about getting my money back of my son's lunch account. I put $150 on it right before school started and they told me no. My son wants out of this district so bad and asked me to send him to cyber school and going to call on Monday to see if they will take him and to bad if my tax money goes to a Cyber School.
Jean Smith September 08, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Beans you are sop right. Talk to your neighbors that have students in the school district and they will tell you the same thing that the school is going downhill. BTW ml does not have children in the school, as she stated on post last year and does not know what is going on in the school district. But she is an expert on it.
Matt A. September 08, 2012 at 11:26 PM
ML, I did talk to the Principle about why adults are not allowed to eat lunch with their grand children at the middle school and it had to do with someone who was on Megan List and all parents and grandparents who want to go eat lunch with students have to get clearance to do so. Each school follows their own rules on being able to go to have lunch with their children and grand children. I did ask Mr Ross about what you said about bad apples parents not being able to come to the school and he said that is not true, and not sure where you are getting your information from but all parents are allowed in all schools to meet with the teachers, special ed teachers, office staff, nurse, etc. If they would stop bad apples as you call parents, then they are letting themselves in for law suits to be filed against the school. Mr Ross said "All Parents have a rights to what their children are doing in school, but it is unfortunate that most parents are not involved in their children school, till they are failing. ML please don't post false information, if you don't know for a fact if it is true or not, it isn't fair to parents that have students at the school to have to read lies about the school district.
Matt A. September 08, 2012 at 11:37 PM
ML where do you get your information on any schools, charter schools. What you are saying came of of peoples blogs. That is not true at all about Union Charter Schools and Non Union Charter schools. All schools can fail, Union and Non Union. Baldwin is a Union School and their testing grades have dropped over the last 10 years. You also pointed out that only Union School States are at the top of the List and Non Union Schools at the bottom as in SC, which was so false. You need to do more research and not post part of a blog where you get your information from. Every time I look up the information that you post, I find those facts so untrue. Sandra that movie is a fact base movie which has a lot of truth to it. School unions are failing and the biggest mistake is giving teachers tenure. Once they have it, it is impossible to get rid of them. In 2010-2012 in an over all study from the Board of Education, charter school students scored higher on Standardized Testing then students who went to Union Schools.
Matt A. September 08, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Lou, your going to need to get clearance to be able to be around any child who is not your own. Most schools districts when you get into Middle School age students do not allow parents to monitor their children classes.


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