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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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cc September 06, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Wouldn't put it pass them to make another one.
cc September 06, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I agree with Crowder get rid of the incompetent teachers. But will they be able to bring better teachers to the district, doubt it. Wasn't it last week that Lutz was bragging about the schools AYP grades have improved and we were going in the right direction. All the clowns on the school board and administration needs to go. With the cuts to Technology and hiring deans of sports does not do anything to improve Baldwin. It makes it go further downhill.
Concerned Parent September 06, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Totally agree... Board members losing sleep and being embarrased is no consulation to parents concerned about their children's quality of education. This is no surprise to me since I have first hand experience with paying my taxes faithfully to have a child graduate not prepared for college. Can barely spell and reading very low. Great Job Baldwin/Whitehall!!! Keep it up and I'm sure there will be more houses up for sale!!! And I'm sure others are asking the question?? Why is Mcannulty students not taking the test for AYP???? Whitehall Elementary is a mess and someone needs to clean house along with cleaning house at the high school which is a mess too. Suggestion.....maybe try modeling Painter since they seem to have it all figured out. How about getting some of those good teachers over to South Baldwin?? How about closing Whitehall and making Mcannulty exactly like Painter. The poor South children just get used to one school and get uprooted to another. They attend Three schools before high school. What is the purpose of that??
Robert Edward Healy, III September 06, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Concerned, McAnnulty's students simply are too young to qualify.
Concerned Parent September 06, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Robert thank you for answering my question.
Robert Edward Healy, III September 06, 2012 at 07:01 PM
My pleasure.
JoePa September 06, 2012 at 07:29 PM
we all know its because of GREEN MEADOWS!!!!!!
Kaitlin September 06, 2012 at 09:46 PM
The blame in this matter must be shared equally. Baldwin Whitehall schools are not "a mess." There are areas that need improvement, soecifically in the area of the subgroups. The subgroups themselves are made up of children who have learning disabilities, autism, emotional disburbances, etc. and those who are receiving free/reduced lunch. For those students with LDs, standardized tests are sometimes an inaccurate assessment of their progress, what with dsylexia, ADD, etc. Students receiving free and reduced lunch are called "economically disadvantaged." These children often have 2 working parents, or live in single family homes. They're also often refugees and immigrants from other countries. These are not excuses for poor performance on the PSSA, but they are reality. The curriculum leaders need to find a way to specifically target and support the students who make up these subgroups, but that's easier said than done. I hope that the right steps are taken, including new curriculum if appropriate, performance assessments for teachers that support those who are struggling, etc. But keep in mind that the PSSA is not the end-all-be-all for measuring student performance. It's a high stakes test that gives only a glimpse into what our children actually do at school all day.
bd September 06, 2012 at 10:00 PM
JoePa - Wrong. If you want to blame the immigrant population, think again. Paynter elementary, which is home to numerous non-English speaking students, made all of the state requirements. If you want to blame other minorities, please provide me with which minority group you know is causing the problem. By the way, in case you do not know, there are many minorites at the the former Prospect Park apartment complex who I am certain you want to blame. I see the problem as poor leadership and focus by a school board more interested in buildings and sports than education. I also see the school district adminstration and teachers at fault. Does anyone know if school administration is performing performance appraisals on the teaching staff?
Jean Smith September 06, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Kaitlin, all schools have the same type of students and not just Baldwin/Whitehall. I am glad you don't think our schools aren't a mess but they are. Go talk to parents who's students are in first year in college and basically have to take high school classes before they are let into college classes. There are people that live in 150-200 dollar home in Baldwin/Whitehall that get free lunches because one or both parent have lost their jobs, so it isn't the economically disadvantaged. I raised 5 children on my own as my husband passed away from cancer and they were all on the dean's list so you can't blame it on single parents. My youngest in the school has friends where both parents work and are on dean's list so you can't blame it on 2 working parents. All school districts have free and reduced lunches, even the top 10 schools in Allegheny County, so you can't blame it on that either. Scranton has the most ESL students in Pennsylvania and they got higher AYP scores then Baldwin/Whitehall so can't blame it on that either. It is our school board, administration, principles, and teachers are the ones that are at fault, for not giving our students a good education. The cut money from Special Ed program and Technology to hire Dean of Sports, worry about the fields, planting flowers and building a new and improve high school that they will never fill with students like they had in the 70-80's.
NE12Ukid September 06, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Kaitlin, nice to see someone here who knows some of the facts about AYP and PSSA. Your closing sentences say volumes.
Brian Rampolla September 07, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Kaitlin is right, which is why in my opinion it's best to use the PSSA results for analysis of trends over time. Here are some of the key math results for the last 3 school years in order (09-10, 10-11, 11-12): 8th Grade: 76, 80, 85 Significant improvement! 11th Grade: 71, 67, 70 No change - not good Difference: -5, -13, -15 Increasing - not good So, the staff at Harrison are to be congratulated on their math enrichment efforts, but the trends suggest all this work is lost from 9th through 11th and that some drastic math improvement methods are needed at the high school. Let's see what the administration has to say next week. Hopefully they are doing similar analysis across the district.
Jean Smith September 07, 2012 at 12:20 AM
JoePa it is the Residence of South Hills and not Green Meadows. and they have less then 7% section 8 up there now and at the end of getting out Section 8 except for Elderly and Mentally Disabled (If I said this wrong I apologize). Whitehall places is almost finished with getting rid of Section also but two other Apartment Complexes over in North Baldwin now started taking Section 8. Many of these ESL families are purchasing homes over in North Baldwin, which we can thank obama for giving them SS, welfare, section 8, Food stamps and free medical. If you want to blame anyone you can blame our school board and school Administration. We need to cut budgets for Technology and for Special Ed but hire Dean of Students and pay them almost as much as the school principal is making. BTW, I did ask one of the board memeber what they were making (can we say Schmotzer) and he just changed the subject to school lunches).
Brian Rampolla September 07, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Let me clarify that a better comparison of scores should probably be last years 11th graders (who scored 70%) with the score for this same group of students when they were in 8th grade in 08-09. Last years 8th graders who scored 85% may indeed have developed improved skills and might be expected to perform better by the time they reach 11th grade, but if I were a parent of these kids (now in 9th grade), I would be watching the quality of their math education this year very, very closely to ensure there is no drop-off. And, I would make sure Mr. O'Toole knew in no uncertain terms that no drop-off would be tolerated.
Lou Rainaldi Jr. September 07, 2012 at 11:01 AM
I am curiuos what school in our district has these bad apples? My children are at Whitehall (McAnnulty before that) and I have to say that I am very happy with the teachers that they have been in contact with. I also have personally visited the schools and sat in class without any problems. The teachers that I have been dealing with are very good and I respect them and their job. I also would be the first one complaining at the school and board if my children get a bad techer. Just wanted to add my 2 cents to this active topic.
john September 07, 2012 at 01:43 PM
I haven't had an issue with the schools or teachers, either. The teachers my children have had are all wonderful, and seem to have a passion for teaching that all teachers should have. I have no regrets about sending my kids to these schools.
Matt A. September 07, 2012 at 02:22 PM
ml how many parents have been "red flagged" from their children classrooms because of bad behavior? Each school principle has their own rules on if parents can sit in classrooms, visit at lunchtime to eat with their child. I went the other day and had lunch with my grandchild at McAnnulty, but Harrison Middle School does not allow it.
Sandra September 07, 2012 at 02:41 PM
So far we've been lucky with the teachers my daughter has had. Has anyone seen the movie, "Waiting for Superman"? It's an enlightening movie about failing schools in our country and how it's nearly impossible to change anything because of the teacher's unions. Charter schools are popping up everywhere because of this.
Lou Rainaldi Jr. September 07, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I would really like to see the reasoning that Harrison doesn't allow a parent to monitor. Next year they will have fun with me then...
cc September 07, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I love how some are experts on our school when they don't even have children in the school, as they have stated before in many of post.
Brian Rampolla September 08, 2012 at 01:43 AM
In response to ML I am not a teacher. I started to look into these issues as a member of the 2008 budget review committee, then as a board candidate a few years ago. Our two kids, one graduated and one currently a senior, have had good experiences and good teachers at the high school, so, just based on personal experience with our two students we have no major issues (although I do strongly believe the district must take better advantage of educational assistance opportunities from Pitt, CMU and other universities, and companies like Bayer, who can bring state-of-the-art technology to the district). The overall PSSA trends showing no improvement in reading or math scores for the last three 11th grade classes of probably 1000 students, however, cannot be ignored. Obviously there are many contributing factors, which is why the simple minded statements by the board are so disturbing, and which is why I’m especially disgusted by George Pry’s appalling dismissal of the data through his not losing sleep statement. This statement might make senses if he were on the Bethel Park board because their 2010-11 high school math and reading scores were about 10 points higher than Baldwin’s, or if he were on the Upper St. Clair board because their scores were 94 for both reading and math, about 20 points higher. But, he is on the BW board, so as long as he sits in that chair, he, and the rest of the board, better do their job and get more engaged in educational issues.
Billee September 08, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Concerned had a good question... however I wasn't satisfied with the answer. Robert I know it's the weekend and I'm gonna ask you to do homework.. not busy work. I call it homework and not busy work because AYP is a area of concern. Are they to young to qualify for success? What happened to everything you needed too know you learned in kindergarten? K-1 should have a independent contracted district in house proficiency accountability standard. k-1 is the keystone for a solid base to the foundation or feeder of grades 2 to 5. With all due respect can you tell me why being so young has anything to do with it? There minds are like sponges and can only soak up what we give them. To me being to young sounds like a excuse by the state unless it has to do with funding? If that is the case then the responsibility falls to the community village.. districts and parents! This is what I mean when I say our children are more than jobs and contracts.
Robert Edward Healy, III September 08, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Billee, I don't know the rationale behind not testing kids as young as the ones at McAnnulty, but the state, simply, does not.
Rock Solid September 08, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Who cares as long as the football team won.
Billee September 08, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Thanks for your reply Robert. No ML I did not ask... because I'm the guard and proud owner of a six year RED FLAG. I honor my red flag that was earned through righteous and justified parental advocating for our children. I have eleven more years before I can retire my red flag and others so called parent problem label. In honor of my red flag... I'm now applying for full safe environment clearances. This will take some time and effort... much like applying for the required ID for voting. It's the right thing to do!
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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