Twenty-one Luzerne County schools were among 561 designated as “poor performing” schools getting “inadequate assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education,” according to a new report from the state Auditor General’s Office.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Education is failing our students and the taxpayers by essentially overlooking 561 academically challenged schools,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in a news release.
The Auditor General’s office scrutinized various aspects of the Department of Education from July 1, 2010 through Aug. 1, 2015. It used the state’s “School Performance Profile” (SPP) scores from the 2013-14 school year to determine which schools are “poor performing.”
Introduced in the 2012-13 school year, SPP score ranges from zero to 100 with several additional points available for “extra credit.” While the state uses a wide range of data to derive the school scores, standardized test results weigh heavily in the calculation.
The state has never officially set a specific SPP score goal, and DePasquale’s cites the lack of a specific definition for “poor performing school” as a problem that should be corrected in order to target assistance to those schools.
The report then uses the SPP score of 70 — cited repeatedly by state officials as a good benchmark — in determining which schools were poor performing. According to the report, 814 school statewide had SPP scores below 70, and 561 of those received “no substantial assistance to improve academic performance.”
The report notes that PDE argued it provides support “in a number of ways,” citing training and technical assistance offered through Intermediate Units (agencies set up by the state to assist school districts within a region), the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) and various web links accessible through the PDE website.
But the auditor general report notes “these supports are available to all schools, and as a result, are not really special assistance directed at schools with poor academic performances.” The report also “questions the effectiveness of these tools,” noting 814 schools scored below 70 in the 2013-14 SPP results and 813 scored below it in 2012-13.
Seven Luzerne County districts had schools on the report’s list of poor-performing schools getting inadequate state support.
The West Side Career and Technical Center also made the list. The Center is a relatively rare entity, a comprehensive CTC that takes students from member districts for the entire day, providing both academic and career training. Most CTCs only take students for a half a day of career training, with academic courses taught in the sending district’s schools.
Wilkes-Barre Area School District had six schools on the list. Greater Nanticoke Area had five and Hazleton Area had four. Wyoming Valley West had two schools on the list while Hanover Area, Pittston Area and Wyoming Area each had one.
In Lackawanna County, 14 schools made the list, 10 of them in the Scranton School District. Valley View School District had two schools on the list, while Carbondale Area and Riverside each had one. In Wyoming County, Tunkhannock Area High School made the list.
The auditor general report notes state Board of Education had not updated its master plan for basic education since 1999, and suggests updating the plan is the first step in addressing the problem. The second step recommended is a restructuring of the PDE organization to include a single contact “directed to aid poor performing schools.”
After those steps are taken, the report recommends PDE partner with school districts to provide direct, customized support to improve academic performance of students.
These are the schools from the tri-county area on the auditor General’s list of poor performing schools receiving inadequate assistance from the state Department of Education:
Greater Nanticoke Area
Greater Nanticoke Area Sr. High School
J F Kennedy Elementary
K M Smith Elementary
Lee Park Elementary
Hazleton Area School District
Hazleton Area High School
West Hazleton Elementary/Middle
Pittston Area Sr. High School
James M Coughlin Jr./Sr. High School
G A R Memorial Jr./Sr. High School
Daniel J Flood Elementary
Solomon/Plains Jr. High School
Wyoming Valley West
Schuyler Avenue Elementary
Third Avenue Elementary
Wyoming Area Secondary Center
West Side Career and Technical Center
Riverside Jr./Sr. High School
West Scranton High School
Frances Willard #32
George Bancroft #34
John Adams #4
John F. Kennedy #7
John G Whittier #2
Neil Armstrong #40
Robert Morris #27
William Prescott #38
Valley View Intermediate
Valley View Middle School
Tunkhannock Area High School
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish