School performance reports might be on a new website and in a different format, but Pennsylvania cyber schools still fall short of the standards set by their public school counterparts in York County.
In the past, public schools and cyber schools received proficiency scores based primarily on results from PSSA testing. This fall, the Pennsylvania Department of Education rated each school building on a scale from 0 to 100 based on multiple factors, including Keystone Exams, PSSA tests, graduation rates and other factors. The scores are listed on a new website created by the department.
The Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School scored 67.9, the highest among cyber schools enrolling York County students. Other cyber schools scored between 35 and 60.
Of the 102 York County public schools, 92 scored a 70 or higher. State officials say a score of 70 or higher is satisfactory; high school and middle school results were just finalized last week. Cyber school officials contend the new profiles show raw data that is more accurate than reporting PSSA scores alone. But they say the new method doesn't account for factors such as the transient nature of cyber school enrollment or the initial abilities of incoming students. The scores, they say, don't show the progress they're seeing in their students.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the education department, said state education officials noticed the gap in scores between cyber schools and traditional public schools when they compiled the scores for the new website.
Eller said it is a concern, and emphasized the department has several voluntary resources for any school in the state that is struggling with proficiency.
He said it is important to look at the initial abilities of the incoming students to cyber schools and said it could take some time to bring struggling students up to par.
Largest enrollment: Among cyber schools in the state, The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School attracts one of the largest groups of students from York County. This year, 461 students enrolled in the school are from the area.
The new state profile allows for a broader view of growth, not just proficiency on exams, said Sandra Fouch, the cyber school's director of federal programs, assessment and research.
The profiles show each school's graduation rates, SAT participation and scores, and growth measures for students from year to year.
Fouch said many of the school's students enter the program behind in their reading and math skills, which translates to low proficiency scores on state tests. Fouch said using growth measures to show how those students improve -- even if low at proficiency -- could raise their overall building score in years to come.
The school received an overall building score of 59.4.
The PSSA proficiency scores for the school for math and reading show a slight dip in progress: This year, 50.77 percent of students were proficient or advanced in math testing, and 65.95 percent were proficient or advanced in reading. Last year, the school was 51.4 percent proficient in math and 66.9 percent proficient in reading.
Need to improve: The Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School received a 64.7 overall.
The school was pleased with its graduation rate and SAT participation, said Erin Keefe, supervisor of federal programs at the school. But Keefe said the testing proficiency scores are still the sticking point: The school needs to bring those up.
The school showed a modest improvement in math proficiency, with an increase from 59.1 last year to 60.53 on this year's profile. Reading dipped slightly, from 68.5 last year to 66.51.
Keefe said part of that struggle is the turnover rate of students. She said the rate is about 50 percent, and it's a challenge to bring students to proficiency in one year.
But Keefe said she expects continued improvement with increased use of diagnostic testing and remedial support when needed.
New student challenge: Student population fluctuations also affect the scores negatively at Commonwealth Connections Academy, said its head of school Maurice Flurie.
Flurie said growth measures and proficiency benefit schools with consistent student population. But the academy had 3,500 new students last year, which posed a challenge to make sure those students were all performing at proficient levels.
Flurie said he is pleased many of his students have shown growth compared to how they performed at previous schools. He said the growth might not mean those students are proficient yet, but it shows the school is affecting students in a positive way.
The school, which enrolls 424 York County students this year, reported 46.87 percent proficiency in math, down from 49.3 last year. Reading scores also dropped, from 61.1 last year to 56.33.
'High-risk' students: Agora Cyber Charter School is also affected by student demographics, said Sharon Williams, the head of school.
Agora has 324 students enrolled from York County this year, and scored 48.4 on the school profile.
"It's really important to remember the students that Agora serves," she said. "We serve many high-risk students that we serve very well."
Agora students showed a rise in proficiency on PSSA tests, but at low levels. Math proficiency improved from 32.7 to 37.4, and reading increased from 45.4 to 47.58.
Eller, of the education department, said it is important to recognize how students are enrolled in cyber schools in the first place: For one reason or another, parents make the decision.
"The family is making an active choice to place their child in that school," Eller said.
Eller said parents are always free to move children from cyber schools if they decide the format is not serving their child well.
Profiles for every public, charter and cyber school can be found at paschoolperformance.org.
-- Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.