Avon Grove reviews student-achievement data
● By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board’s Jan. 24 meeting was highlighted by a report about the school district’s student-achievement data for the 2017-2018 school year. Dr. Michael Snopkowski, the director of teaching and learning for secondary schools, and Dr. Nicole Harvey, the director of teaching and learning for elementary schools, led the presentation.
Snopkowski highlighted a series of graphs that illustrated student-performance data on a variety of standardized tests, including PSSA test scores from 2015 to 2018. He explained that some of the data that is collected tracks how one group of students―such as eighth graders―performed on the same test in successive years. In this scenario, the group of eighth-graders taking a PSSA math test one year would not be the same group of eighth-graders taking the test the next year, so comparing those results doesn't necessarily provide any insights into whether student-achievement is increasing from one year to the next. The state also tracks cohort scores, which looks at the same group of students and how they performed on standardized tests from one year to the next. These cohort scores are useful in showing how the students' performances on tests are increasing or decreasing from year to year.
Snopkowski said that the data indicates that Avon Grove’s math scores are trending in the right direction, especially when compared to the data for all the schools across the state. Avon Grove students demonstrated growth in PSSA scores in math, while across the state scores declined. Avon Grove's scores of first-time test performances on the Algebra 1 Keystone Exams improved by 13 percentage points over four years.
Snopkowski said that there would be a continued focus on strategic goals in math, including providing differentiated and small-group support for math students who need it. The district also plans to increase the use of available tools to create authentic learning experiences through makerspaces. There will also be a curriculum review to strengthen vertical articulation.
Harvey then reviewed some of the ELA and science test results. Overall, the school district's students are very comparable to the state averages in these areas. There are some bright spots: For example, the ELA data for grades 5 to 8 indicates that the cohort scores have improved each successive year over the last four years, which shows that the students are demonstrating growth in the content areas. Grade 4 and grade 8 students reached the highest scores in the last four years during 2017-2018. Avon Grove High School's performance on literature exams also reached a four-year high.
Snopkowski reviewed the School Performance Profile of the district's schools, comparing the results for 2017-2018 with the results for 2016-2017. Snopkowski explained that the Avon Grove High School's School Performance Profile number, which takes into account the results of various tests, increased from 74.7 to 84.1 from one year to the next. The Fred S. Engel Middle School's School Performance Profile number increased from 71.7 to 82. At Avon Grove Intermediate School, the School Performance Profile number increased from 78.3 to 82.2. The number for Penn London Elementary declined from 77.4 to 65, but Snopkowski noted that Penn London Elementary's scores factor in how students perform on tests when they move on to the intermediate school.
Superintendent Christopher Marchese said that the student-achievement data shows that the school district is making good gains when it comes to academic achievement. He said that a focus on curriculum development and professional development for teachers are largely responsible for the gains. The district has also invested heavily in technology and some academic initiatives aimed at improving classroom performance in the last few years.
“We are growing at a very high rate, unlike what we were doing a few years ago,” said Marchese.
The school board spent a considerable amount of time debating the necessity for and the merits of a resolution pertaining to this year’s budget process. This resolution would attempt to improve this process by establishing several committee-of-the-whole meetings where budget information would be shared by the administration and then discussed by school board members. The resolution also aimed to clarify the guidelines for school board members to request information about the budget. Last year, some of the requests for information took up a lot of time from administrators, especially when requests came in from different school board members.
Speaking in favor of the resolution, board vice president Bill Wood emphasized that all board members would be able to have any of their questions answered during the budget process, and there would be ample opportunities for the board members to offer input about the budget. The goal, Wood said at one point, is to provide administrators with clear direction. He added that the resolution was an attempt by the administration and the board’s leadership to address some concerns that a minority of the board had raised.
Supporting Wood's comments, school board president Tracy Lisi said that the resolution was not meant to limit any questions from board members, but rather to get the school board members aligned on the budget process.
This board is divided on many issues, and this resolution was no exception. School board members Charles Beatty III, John Auerbach, and Rick Dumont all said that the resolution is unnecessary, and it might be better to pass a resolution about the budgeting process after passing a budget again―that way the board members could see what they might want to change. They did not like the idea of potentially restricting their options as the budget was being developed, despite the assurances from Lisi and Wood that nothing in the resolution would do that.
A lengthy discussion ensued, and after some language was added to the resolution, six of the seven board members present voted in favor of it.
During the first presentation of the meeting, smartphones were held aloft throughout the room as parents recorded a short performance by a group of second grade singers from the Penn London Elementary School. The singers will be performing at the April 24 Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball game. Avon Grove is hoping to fill the stadium that night to support the young performers. The game begins at 6:30 p.m.
The Avon Grove School Board will take part in the next committee-of-the-whole meeting at 6:30 p.m. On Feb. 19. The meeting will be held at the Avon Grove Intermediate School audion. The next regular meeting will take place on Thursday, Feb. 28. The meeting will also take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Avon Grove Intermediate School audion.