Opting In: The Power of Testing – PSSA Reading

Although “Opt Out” has a few things right, the movement’s desire to do away with standardized testing is, in my opinion, a major mistake.

Without testing, we would not have access to rich data sets that tell us how our schools are truly performing.

With testing, we have an honest assessment of the academic strengths and weaknesses of our program.   With testing, we can see achievement results (performance against a standard) and growth results (progress between two points in time).   With testing, school boards have objective and benchmarked information on school performance.

In yesterday’s post we looked at PSSA Math results for UCF.   Today, it is PSSA reading.

The scatterplots below are drawn using PSSA’s analysis tools, which are available to the public.  For help understanding the meaning of the data, you can watch video explanations here.

The first scatterplot shows UCFSD’s position (red square) relative to all PA school districts (yellow ovals).  In addition, the blue rectangles show Chester County school districts.   School that are performing well on achievement and growth are those in the top right quadrant.

Chart 1:  PSSA Reading – UCFSD vs. All PA School Districts

PSSA Reading PA

UCFSD students are at the very top on the achievement dimension (left axis), with only one district in the state achieving at a higher level. (That higher-performing school is Infinity Charter in the Central Dauphin school district.  It is an open-admission public charter school for gifted students.)

On the growth dimension (horizontal axis) UCF is at approximately the 95th percentile.  Our schools are demonstrating an ability to impart more math learning in a year than the average PA school district, and only about 5% of districts show better growth than UCF.   So we are very good, but not yet elite on growth.

Let’s zoom in on Chester County.  As with the Math PSSA scores, there are surprises at the school level.

Chart 2:  UCF Building Results vs. Chester County

PSSA Reading CC

At the building level, the results are not universally positive.  Although achievement results are quite strong in all five buildings, growth scores are mixed.  Pocopson (PES) growth scores are in the bottom 10%, with a negative growth index.  Hillendale (HES) is somewhat better, but still slightly negative.  Unionville Elementary (UES) and Chadds Ford  (CFES) have lower levels of achievement than PES and HES, but the schools are more effective, showing top quartile growth scores.  Patton Middle School (CFPMS) is performing very well — achievement and growth are all at the very top in the county.

As with math,  PES is the highest performing of the five schools on the reading achievement dimension, but the lowest on the growth dimension.  What does PES’ low growth score mean?

Big DataRemember that a growth score looks across thousands of similar students to answer this question:  in the past, how much learning has the average school imparted to students who started the year at the same place as PES students?   Or stated differently, how much academic progress, on average, do high-achieving readers make in a year?   That average is ‘zero’ on the horizontal axis.

And the model says that if we sent our PES students to other elementary schools in Chester county, they would become better readers at 90% of those schools than they did at PES.

Now this is not a post designed to criticize PES (or any other school).  I love PES, and want nothing but the best for our students who attend (including my own kids).  And there is more to a full education than reading test scores.   And there are nuances within the data that the administration examines.  Nevertheless, the top-level results are striking.

My main point is this (repeated word-for-word from my prior post): Don’t we want to have this kind of information available to parents, administrators, teachers, and board members?  And if we want this information, we need to have annual standardized testing of all students.  As parents, we should be “Opting In” if we want to know how well our schools are performing.

Next up:  Keystone results.

Data is Power