NO, OUR schools are not getting worse.
Yes, it certainly looks that way on the surface, at least when you use the state's measurement of "Adequate Yearly Progress" toward the goal of all students scoring proficient or better in math and reading.
Eight years ago, only five Luzerne County schools failed to make AYP. Last year, 21 fell short. This year it was a whopping 42 schools – more than two-thirds.
This doesn't automatically mean those schools are getting worse. In fact, schools could have done better in the standardized tests this year and still not met AYP.
That's because, as Hazleton Area Superintendent Francis Antonelli put it, "they keep narrowing the goalposts." That was the point of AYP when it was introduced in 2003. The state set a baseline: A percentage of students had to score proficient or better. As the years went by, those percentages rose.
This year, the goals climbed substantially, from 72 percent to 81 percent in reading, and from 67 percent to 78 percent in math. The pressure will get worse: Next year's reading goal will be 91 percent, while the math benchmark will be 89 percent.
Then its 2014, deadline for that 100 percent proficiency.
So schools can improve their test results and still not meet AYP simply because they didn't improve enough.
And the conundrum is made more complex by a mandate requiring students in several subgroups to meet the same goals. Minorities, English Language Learners, children from low income families and special education students are all measured separately.
Schools may meet the goal overall, yet not make AYP because a subgroup missed the mandate. This is, predictably, particularly common in the special education subgroup.
So do not rush to judgment. Take any pundit's denouncement of "failing schools" with a very large grain of salt. Dig into your school's data (paayp.emetric.net), or wait for more detailed analysis by the media and experts.
Otherwise, you are failing your school.