State report card: York City district excels in growth; Central York, Dover struggle

Carol Saylor, the chief recovery officer for the York City School District’, is shown in her office at the district administration building in York City, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Each fall, public schools in Pennsylvania have the chance to not only see how students performed against grade-level standards but also how much growth they had from one year to the next — and this year York County had a mixed bag of highs and lows.

The state Department of Education recently released its annual Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System (PVAAS) results, analyzing student achievement and growth in 2017-18 state assessments.

Both are important — achievement because it measures against a standard, and growth because it measures against prior performance, showing evidence of the school’s effect on a student.

Outside factors such as demographics, including socioeconomic variables, do not have an effect on growth, but they can affect achievement — and studying them together gives a complete view of a district's performance, PVAAS online guidelines state.

The York Dispatch pulled growth and achievement data for all 16 York County school districts, and its two charter schools — focusing on the average growth index and the combined percentage of proficient and advanced students.

The index is a measure of whether the school or district met the standard for PA Academic Growth — which is to at least maintain achievement from one grade, subject or course to the next.

'New normal': York City School District had low achievement but excelled in growth — meeting or exceeding the growth standard in every state assessment.

Last year was the first time since the state began using PVAAS — implemented statewide in 2006 — that York City met the standard in English language arts and exceeded it in math, according to a news release.

More:York City schools see internal gains in English, math

More:York City district will apply to end recovery status this summer

"Any time as a district you can make multiple years of growth it screams that there’s something that you’re doing that’s right," said Acting Superintendent Andrea Berry.

She highlighted a greater focus on professional development, including a partnership with district principals and the University of Virginia for school turnaround, as one reason for student success this year.

“We are meeting students where they are and making it our mission to see them reach their potential, said Superintendent Eric Holmes, who is on medical leave, in a news release. "This is the new normal in the School District of the City of York."

Not aligned: Dover Area School District struggled in both growth and achievement — a setback the administration tracks to misaligned curriculum standards resulting from recent leadership changes.

Curriculum was not aligned to state standards before assessments last April because the district was in "a state of flux," said Superintendent Tracy Krum.

Krum became assistant superintendent in May 2017 and took over as superintendent just a couple of months later, leaving little time to write curriculum. Assistant Superintendent Patricia Maloney started full-time last January.

More:Dover Area School District hires superintendent

Since then, the district has made many changes, including use of a progress-tracking assessment, "very aggressive curriculum writing" and teacher training that shifted focus away from lecturing and toward a more hands-on approach with data-driven instruction.

"As you can imagine, teachers have been very busy working very hard," Krum added, saying she hopes for much better results next year.

Highs and lows: The state assessments analyzed in PVAAS include the math and English language arts Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) for grades four to eight and three Keystone assessments: Algebra I, Biology and Literature.

York County struggled in the PSSAs, with half the districts showing significant evidence they fell short of the standard for PA Academic Growth in both math and English assessments.

But those that exceeded the growth standard outweighed those that didn't in two out of the three Keystones, and South Western had the most evidence of growth — out of any of the districts across all assessments — in Keystone Algebra I.

One of the biggest drops in growth came from Central York School District in PSSA math, though the district had the highest percentage of proficient or advanced students in Keystone Biology — despite also significantly not meeting the growth standard in that area. 

“We are reviewing our data with our district leadership team and, as always, will continue to work hard to ensure we are meeting the academic, emotional and social needs of ALL of our learners," wrote District Spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig in an email.

Some other high flyers were Northern York County School District, exceeding growth significantly in four out of five assessments, and York Suburban School District, which widely topped the districts in achievement and had significant growth in most assessments. 

More:York Suburban continues to lead local districts on PSSA scores

The county's charter schools had lower achievement percentages than many districts but stayed on par with growth.

A complete data set can be found at