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In the past decade, the York City School District has faced challenges few other districts have encountered around the state: a wave of charter schools, sky-high transiency, severe poverty and troubling test scores.

However, recent results showing academic progress among York City students has given district officials something to smile about.

In November, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released school building and district-level measurements of student growth, and data for York City students in math and English language arts shows improvement over last year.

Achievement vs. growth: The system that provides the performance data is called the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System.

The assessment system, publicly available online, aims to provide academic growth data for schools along with achievement data that comes from the Pennsylvania State Standard Assessment and Keystone Exams, “adding value” to data districts already received.

The data provides information on fourth- through eighth-graders who take the PSSA and 11th-graders who take the Keystone Exams in high school.

While PSSA and Keystone data show how students are performing according to the state’s standards, PVAAS data show if enough students exhibited academic growth from where they were last year.

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“Achievement results and growth results must be used together to get a complete picture of student learning,” the Department of Education states on the PVAAS website.

PVAAS scores can help indicate whether more students are moving from below basic to basic, basic to proficient, and so on. Students cannot be expected to jump from below basic to proficient in one school year, York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes has said.

Math, English gains: All but one of the district’s seven primary schools met or exceeded the state’s standard for academic growth in both English language arts and math.

Four schools — Devers K-8, Davis K-8, Goode K-8 and McKinley K-8 — met the standard for academic growth in English language arts, while Jackson K-8 and Hannah Penn K-8 exceeded the state’s standard for academic growth, according to 2017 data.

In math, two schools — Devers K-8 and Davis K-8 — met standards for growth. Jackson K-8, Hannah Penn K-8, Goode K-8 and McKinley K-8 exceeded academic growth standards.

Ferguson K-8 was the only school in the district that did not exhibit at least average signs of growth in reading and math. 

The news was even better at William Penn Senior High School, where the student body saw gains across the literature, algebra and biology subjects measured on the Keystone Exams.

In the Keystone literature exam, students met general growth standards, according to state data.

In the algebra Keystones, William Penn showed “moderate evidence” that it had exceeded the state scores, while the biology exam exhibited “significant evidence” that students exceeded the standard for academic growth. 

Turning a corner? At a regular school board meeting on Nov. 15, Holmes said the scores reflect “significant growth” for the district since the state first utilized PVAAS in 2006.

“Are we where we need to be? No. Are we where we want to be? No, but we’re a lot better off than where we were a year before,” Holmes said. “That’s something that we should be proud of.”

The PVAAS scores are a dramatic improvement from the state of district growth just a few years ago. In 2015 and 2016, students in grades 4-8 did not meet the standard of a typical year of growth in math.

Carol Saylor, the district's recovery officer, said the PVAAS scores indicate that the district is "absolutely" turning in the right direction after laying the infrastructure of a rewritten curriculum, implementing a cyber learning program and opening a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Academy in the 2017-18 school year.

"What's so great about the PVAAS scores is that we've built the foundation mark," Saylor said.

She said the district will continue to build on the success of the recovery plan-initiated programs to progressively improve the academic standing of students.

Consistent leadership at administrative levels, such as Holmes, now in his fourth year as superintendent, and Brandon Carter, in his third year as William Penn Senior High School principal, is crucial for the stability of the district, Saylor said.

She agreed with Holmes that the district has "a long way to go" but reiterated what she told board members upon approval of her plan in March 2016.

"Be patient," she said.

Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at jgonzalez@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @EducationYD.

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