Allderdice Makes AYP for First Time in Seven Years
Taylor Allderdice High School made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the first time in seven years in 2011. The designation, known by its initialism as AYP and based in this state on eleventh grade PSSA exam scores, came as a dramatic relief to administrators who mounted an unprecedented campaign last school year to meet the benchmark.
Principal Melissa Friez said she cried with joy when the results came in.
“I never thought I’d be so happy to see test scores,” said Friez, who is entering her third year at the school, “I’m really excited about it. When I got here we were known as a good school, just not for all students.” The reversal in standardized test scores, she said, is an indication that fewer students are getting lost in the shuffle.
In early March, administrators put repeated and overwhelming emphasis on the testing. Three hour delays for all students not in eleventh grade kept the school noiseless during testing. Gum, mints, snacks, pizza, and even catered lunches were distributed before, between, and after exams. The school even told juniors that they didn’t have to go to regular classes during the afternoons after testing, to the chagrin of many AP course teachers.
As a reward for meeting AYP, the school even promised a senior trip for the class of 2012.
The end result, though, may be a mixed bag for the school as a whole. With so much class time devoted to making sure students do well on the PSSA exam each year, and the constraints that has put on a shrinking school budget to fund non-core classes like art, music, and business electives, teachers are expressing concern over what kind of education students are getting.
Business teacher James “Coach” Lowe said, “Think about this. A third of students go to college. Where do the other two thirds go? Do you think into business? I think they do.” Lowe, who is retiring at the end of the school year, said that the test scores are another in a long litany of excuses to do away with classes, like business law, business economics, and entrepreneurship, that he thinks have tremendous value.
Teachers of core classes tend to have more nuanced opinions about the intense focus on, and preparation during class time for, standardized tests.
“I don’t think students miss out on anything because of the test preparation,” said Charles Long, an eleventh grade English teacher, “Students are learning the same skills for the test as they would need to learn anyways.”
To make AYP, a school must meet targets for performance in three areas: the percentage of students who participate in testing, the percentage of students who score in the proficient or above range, and the percentage of students who graduate.
The participation rate here was nearly 100 percent. The number of students with a score of proficient or above was 65.8 percent in reading and 75.5 percent in mathematics. The graduation rate, which takes into account only students enrolled as seniors, was 94.09 percent.
Though economically disadvantaged students continued to lag behind the average by roughly 20 percent in terms of proficiency, there was enough improvement among these students to give the school the lift it needed to meet every one of the 17 targets required to make AYP based on statistics from the 2010-2011 school year.
Because Allderdice hasn’t met the benchmark since 2004, the AYP status the school received in 2011 was not really “Made AYP” as administrators have erroneously stated but “Making Progress”. The technicality stems from the fact that in the past seven years the school has slipped further and further down the rungs of the ladder that are AYP levels, from a “Warning” in 2005 to “Corrective Action 2” in 2010. As a consequence, Allderdice will remain in a probationary state for another year.
To be actually stamped with a “Made AYP” status and be considered “back on track” to meet the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014, the school will have to meet the performance targets again this school year and only at that point will it shed the baggage of years under scrutiny. If the results come up short this school year, Allderdice will fall back into “Corrective Action 2” and could face further school leadership and curriculum changes and even restructuring.