By Garret Roberts
Although overall standardized testing scores dipped during the COVID-19 pandemic, Montour educators are celebrating relative successes compared to neighboring districts.
During their March 17 meeting, school directors gave a special presentation honoring students and detailing their aggregate scores on Keystone and Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing during the 2020-2021 school year. English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics scores were lower than previous years, however, overall results remained among the best in Allegheny County, according to state data presented by Dominic Salpeck, director of instruction and academic achievement for Montour.
“I'm happy to report we did well, comparatively speaking,” said Salpeck. “One of the major reasons we did well is because of the dedication of our school district to education during the pandemic, we were one of only a few schools in the county to remain in person for the full year.”
According to the district’s report, overall ELA scores were down by 6% across the school district and math scores decreased by 10% last year. The data presented for middle school PSSA testing showed students had a 76% passing rate for ELA testing and 57% passing rate for math.
Due to the low scores, combined with the learning gap caused by COVID-19, the school is already looking at ways to raise the testing scores again.
“We also understand that a number of students did not make the progress we wanted to have as a result of the shutdown,” said Salpeck. “Consequently, we have some work to do and we've been working very hard this year.”
In their comparisons, Montour noted that lower-income school districts were not in these data sets. As a result, the upcoming spring scores may see more competition in the testing pool.
“I expect that we haven't seen the full result of the shutdown quite yet,” said Salpeck. “Many of the more impoverished districts, which had difficulty even bringing kids back to give the PSSA and the Keystones, they're not included in these results. We will see the full impact of the COVID slide across the Commonwealth, I believe with the results here in the spring.”
Despite overall decreases, Montour was still among the top achievers in the county overall. While the math scores were low for the middle school, Montour was the third-ranked score across Allegheny County’s schools. Without providing a ranking for ELA scores, the district also highlighted improvement in English-based skills.
Not all scores were negative either: Fourth grade science scores saw an increase in 2021, with a 3% increase in passing scores for Montour students. Fifth grade students saw a slightly larger increase in passing scores, with 5% more of students seeing success in science scores.
Montour administrators are already evaluating the scores for ways to adjust their methods in the next school year.
“Ninety percent of our students participated in state testing,” said Salpeck. “Why are we so excited about that? Because, number one, it tells us how we did in terms of teaching. It shows us where learning pitfalls may be. It allows us to create a picture of where we need to address learning in our curriculum and also with targeted action planning in the subsequent progress monitoring.”