Director of learning quizzed over PSSA scores

Published: Oct 24 2012 09:22:15 PM EDT
EASTON, Pa. -

A top Easton area school official says state test results are evidence that the district has reason to be proud. But some school board members have a different interpretation.

Stephen Furst, the district's director of teaching and learning, presented an overview of the latest PSSA testing done at the elementary, middle and high school levels to the school board Tuesday night.

While admitting that some of the results were cause for concern, Furst said, "Our scores in math were some of the highest in the state. It's time we are recognized for some of the things we do in Easton." He also said, "Our scores across the district are above the state average."

While welcoming those statistics, some board members were clearly unhappy with other numbers.

Robert Moskaitis said he was disappointed in the "statistical flatline" of the high-school test results over the last several years. The reading, math, writing and science scores improved anywhere from .7 to 4.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to a slide show presented by Furst. But Moskaitis labeled those numbers "statistical noise," and wanted to know why neighboring Wilson Area School District is "succeeding where we are failing."

Furst replied that Easton has a larger percentage of high school students who are economically disadvantaged. "They can't stay after school [for extra help] because some of them are working eight-hour shifts."

Furst said the new flex scheduling instituted this school year, which gives students longer, more intensive classes in certain subjects, will bring more "rigor" to the classroom. "We are now tailoring our curriculum to our demographic," Furst noted. "They don't necessarily fit the mold in Wilson."

Board member Pat Vulcano Jr. said that his 30 years' experience as a teacher has taught him that as students grow older, "they seem to lose something" in enthusiasm for education. "You hear all kinds of excuses, which tend to pull grades down."

Furst said that because the PSSA tests don't count for anything, high school students do not take them seriously. "If you want high school kids to respond, make it relevant," Furst said, adding that switching over to the Keystone tests will help because students have to pass them to graduate.

Board member William Reilly said he was pleased that the district has switched to the Keystone tests, but chided state officials for not making them part of a graduation requirement until 2017.

Board member Janet Matthews said while concern about the high school numbers is warranted, they aren't the whole story. "Research tells you if [students] are not reading at grade level by grade nine, they will never catch up. ... Early childhood education is crucial. ... That's where the concentration needs to be. If they can't read after the third grade, it just doesn't matter. That's what the research shows. We've got to keep that in the back of our minds."

In other business, the board voted unanimously to bring back late bus runs at the middle and high schools on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Michael Simonetta, the district's chief operating officer, said the late bus runs, which were part of this school year's budget cuts, will begin Thursday afternoon and cost between $25,000 and $28,000.

The board also approved a plan by the Career Institute of Technology to buy three building lots on Toboggan and Cypress trails in the Evergreen Terrace area of Forks Twp., Northampton Co., for $186,000.

CIT director Dr. Ron Roth told the board that the school's instructors and advisors preferred teaching basic skills to students using new construction, rather than renovation projects, which require more skills. However, he added, "We're not closing the door on renovation projects. We could be partnering with Easton and Forks Township on some of them."

Roth said the latest CIT project, a three-bedroom ranch at 1410 Church Lane, near Stockertown, will go on the auction block Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. The home will be open for inspection 1-3 p.m. Nov. 11 and 4-6 p.m. Nov. 15.