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Dr. Lutz Defends Baldwin-Whitehall in Face of Local School Rankings

'It's more than meets the eye.'

Calling the 's recent "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 .

"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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Zandy Dudiak April 13, 2012 at 01:24 PM
What do you think about school rankings, especially given that the districts that are most economically disadvantaged always show up in the lower rankings? Does reporting the average/mean score alone harm districts by not showing how students are scoring at both ends of the spectrum, and does this keep new parents from moving to the district? Do you think students who enter school without having used scissors or having parents who read to them ever truly catch up? What about parents who don't prioritize education? Just some questions to consider.
Billee April 15, 2012 at 01:25 AM
What about parents who don't prioritize education? We have enough questions to consider! What are your suggestions and or solutions? I would really like to hear them. Maybe I can learn something... Maybe for each guardian and or parent we could have a STATE ISSUED GUARDIAN REPORT CARD! If the parent passes with proficiency then the child should be included in the over all STATE TEST SCORES. Parents who fail, their children would not be included in the over all STATE TEST SCORES that would pull the majority of districts down in ranks. In addition to not being permitted in the overall state ranking, they would be PROHIBITED from qualifying for financial and or academic assistance until proficiency can be achieved on the GUARDIAN STATE ISSUED REPORT CARD. However correct me if I am wrong - Would you not lose half of your funding on the other end? I want to hear your PARENT SOLUTIONS! Everyone on both sides are tired of hearing about PARENT PROBLEMS! Besides the CHILD is the one who suffers in the end!
Paula Lim May 10, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Same excuses as they were using 10 years ago........ What has been done to change the situation? After speaking with teachers from my daughter's days at Baldwin, I keep hearing the same thing: " No support from the board. That is why so many of the good teachers and administrators have fled to neighboring districts." Can anyone support or disprove this statement?
JustMe July 08, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Paula have to agree with you there. The teachers don't care anymore because there isn't support from the Administration, School Board. We brought on 2 deans of Sports and then cut the Technology Departments Budget. They don't think of our students at education at all. Maybe Mr Lutz needs to go talk to the Administrator at Upper St Clair, Mt Lebanon, Peters Township or South Fayette to find out what they are doing, how they are investing more into education instead of cutting Departments. If you talk raising raising taxes then you get people complaining that taxes are to high and the parents that have students in school should be the only ones paying taxes. But we paid taxes to educate their children. BWS should of never cut the Technology Department as half the computers in the high school are broken and either need replaced or fixed. Their license agreements ran out in the middle of the first semester for Video Productions and Robotics class and they didn't renew because their wasn't any money in the budget for that, so students didn't get to finish work. The teacher for these classes went to the Administration about the licenses but nothing was done to fix it. But we had money to make a video, put more cameras in the school, fix the hillside, plant flowers and trees. I would rather have an ugly school then cut programs that teach our students.
JustMe July 08, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Billie that is the dumbest thing I heard a State Issued Guardian Report Card. "If the parent passes with proficiency then the child should be included in the over all STATE TEST SCORES", what about the parents that live in 200,000 homes that doesn't care about their children educations???? Your blaming all the bad test scores on the minorities in the school and that is totally wrong. What about the minorities that are in classes and their scores have passed the the students scores that have been in the school district since the beginning of time. What about the children that have ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, your blaming the parents who some of them have to fight our school district to get them in supportive classes and have to have them tested outside the school district to get the school to drawl up a 504 Plan for them. It isn't the parents fault that their child has a learning disability, but it is our schools responsibility to give them an education that they deserve.

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