With only a handful of exceptions, Luzerne County school districts got Cs and Ds in a new “report card” issued by an education reform advocacy group. Compared to districts across the state, local districts landed frequently in the bottom half of rankings based on those grades.
The report cards are based heavily on results in state math and reading tests known as the Pennsylvania System of Scholastic Assessment. The data were crunched and the grades calculated and released by PennCAN, short for Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now.
That group is, in turn, a branch of 50CAN, which bills itself as “a national network of state-led advocacy groups fighting to enact research-based education reforms that will give every child in their state access to a great school.” According to its website, the group supports wider availability of charter schools, options to allow students in low-performing schools to attend schools of their choice whether private or public, and changes in the law making it easier to dismiss teachers.
PennCAN compared the average percentage of students scoring proficient or better across reading and math tests, both overall and by subgroups that statistically do poorly on standardized tests: low-income, black and Latino. They graded districts in three categories: elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Because districts sometimes house different grades under those labels — the definition of middle school in particular can vary — the group looked only at the scores for the highest grade tested in a school. If a school housed kindergarten through 12th grade, it was graded at all three levels — elementary, middle and high school.
The report also gauged “performance gains,” the average one-year change among a cohort of student and graduation rates for high schools. And where numbers were sufficient, it looked at “achievement gap,” comparing test results of low-income and minority students with upper-income and white students. In cases where the percentage of students scoring proficient was already high, gains were not measured.
In the high school rankings, Pittston Area scored the best locally with a C+ that landed it at number 48 of 490 districts on the list. Wyoming Area was 89th with a C and Dallas was 227th with a C-. Hazleton Area ranked lowest locally, coming in at number 446 with a D-.
Crestwood had the highest local ranking in the middle school category, landing at 89th with a B+. Northwest Area, Dallas and Greater Nanticoke all got B grades. Wilkes-Barre Area was near the bottom of the rankings at number 460 with a D grade.
Dallas was the only local district to to crack the top 10 and to earn an A grade, landing in fourth place in the elementary level with an A-. Crestwood ranked 87th with a B-, and Hanover Area ranked 481st with a D-, though Wilkes-Barre Area was close behind at 473rd, also with a D-.
As is common in letter grades, the districts were given numeric grades from 0 percent to 100 percent; the letter grades represent a range on that scale — around 40 percent to 53 percent for a D-, say. So while both districts earned a D-, Wilkes-Barre Area got a higher rank by being higher in the range, 47 percent vs. 44 percent for Hanover Area.
It’s important to note that using only results from the highest grades tested could present an incomplete picture, particularly in elementary grades. The tests are administered in grades six through eight and 11, and historically the percentage of students scoring proficient or better tends to decline in the higher grades, particularly grades eight and 11.