Charter fight: Thackston test scores barely worse than York City

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

For the first half of Helen Thackston Charter School’s nine-year operation in York City, the school had something to be proud of compared to the York City School District: test scores.

In the 2010-11 school year, Thackston had more than 60 percent of its students score advanced or proficient in sixth- and seventh-grade math, compared to about 50 percent in York City schools.

The York City School District holds a special meeting regarding the future of Helen Thackston Charter School at the Administration Building in York City, Feb. 13, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

But now, with revocation hearings scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, new data shows a horse race toward the bottom of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment’s (PSSA) rankings as both the charter school and district schools dropped on several key metrics.

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Test scores cited: One of the reasons listed by York City in a June resolution to revoke Thackston's charter is that the charter school has not shown "consistent improvement in its students' performance in reading and math (or science) on the Keystone Exams each year."

An analysis of PSSA data for York City and Thackston shows a downward trend in test scores for both, but a steeper decline from Thackston.

In sixth grade, Thackston’s starting grade level, the percentage of students who scored either proficient or advanced in English language arts  has dropped 10 percentage points over the past three school years, according to the Department of Education.

York City saw comparable scores drop about 3 percentage points in the same period.

For both the district and charter school, that trend correlates to an increase in the percentage of students scoring basic and below basic on the standardized tests.

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In York City, the percentage of sixth-grade students scoring basic or below basic in English language arts rose from 77.9 percent in the 2014-15 school year to 81.2 percent in the 2017 scores released last week, an increase of 3.3 percentage points.

At Thackston, performance in basic and below-basic scores for the same period spiked from 69.7 percent to 79.6 percent.

In sixth-grade mathematics, Thackston’s scores sink further.

Thackston's advanced or proficient sixth-grade performance on the math PSSA plummeted from 15.7 percent in 2015 to just 1.7 percent in the most recent round of assessments.

Meanwhile, basic and below-basic performance jumped from 92 percent in 2015 to more than 98 percent in 2017.

Helen Thackston's below basic performance on the 6th grade math PSSA has skyrocketed in the past three years, while advanced and proficient performance has nearly vanished.

York City schools also fared poorly, though its drop in positive performance is less severe than Thackston’s.

Keystones: Keystone Exams, which test 11th-graders on literature, biology and algebra, draw a mixed bag for both the charter school and the district.

Since the 2013-14 school year, Thackston has improved in literature, while York City has seen a slight decline in the past four years.

Thackston, which has worse overall literature Keystone results, saw improvements in basic and below-basic results, while York City saw an increase in basic and below-basic performance.

While Thackston has consistently scored worse in algebra over a four-year period, York City has seen a dramatic increase in poor math performance on the exam.

In 2014, 59.9 percent of York City 11th-graders were basic or below basic. In 2017, that figure rose to 78.3 percent, an 18 percentage-point increase.

The York City School District has seen an increase in basic performance on the Algebra I Keystone Exam, while advanced and proficient performance  has dropped.

It is a less dramatic increase than Thackston, which saw basic and below-basic algebra scores rise from 84.6 percent in 2014 to 88.5 percent, though Thackston arguably has less room to perform more poorly.

The Pennsylvania School Performance Profile, a state database tracking academic performance at local educational agencies, was also noted in the June resolution to begin Thackston's revocation process.

The resolution notes Thackston's SPP scores have consistently dropped, from 57.5 out of 100 at the time of its charter renewal in February 2014 to 37.9 for the 2015-16 school year.

When reached for reaction to Thackston's PSSA scores, school principal Melissa Achuff said she wanted to further analyze the 2017 PSSA results before commenting.

Helen Thackston solicitor Brian Leinhauser did not return a request for comment as of noon Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the York City School District said district officials would comment once the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS) scores are released.

PVAAS measures a student's performance against itself over time, unlike PSSA scores, which compare performance to state core standards.

While York City schools also have dipped on the SPP, all schools have stayed above 40 in state tabulations.

While only Thackston's future is on the line, the York City School District likely will be taken to task for its own performance during the charter revocation hearings scheduled to begin  Friday, Oct. 13.

The hearing will be held at the York City School District Administration Building, located at 31 N. Pershing Ave. in York City.