October 16, 2009
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Students reap benefits of well-earned success

by Ashley Csaszar, editor in chief

About a year ago, the administration introduced the idea of daily warm-ups which would assess all students’ testing skills as well as their knowledge of subject matter related to that included on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). A student PSSA task force, whose members concentrated on motivating their peers to do well on the tests, was also instituted. Looking back a year later, however, the efficiency of these warm-ups and task force is valued by not only members of the administration, but the students and staff as well.

The intention of the annual PSSA test is to monitor the skill level of each student within a district in order to pinpoint the areas of study that need to be focused on by teachers the following year. Students in grades three through eight and eleventh are tested in math and reading, and students in grades five, eight, and eleven are tested in writing. A newer section of the assessment is also the science section, incorporating over six branches of scientific study, which is taken during the month of April by selective grades as well.

During the testing season every year, the goal of each school is to meet the standards set by the Pennsylvania

honors classroom

illustration by Elise Polentes

Department of Education. These standards are referred to as AYP, or Annual Yearly Progress. If a district does not meet these standards, reforms to the curriculum are required, and the school may be placed on “corrective action” by the state. These curricular changes may result in the elimination of electives and extracurricular courses so that students are able concentrate primarily on their academic courses, namely math, reading, and writing.

While LHS had been on “corrective action” last year, the BASD school board found reason in the desperate state of the education system at LHS to make a graduation requirement out of the PSSA. In order for seniors to graduate, the board decided, they must either score proficiently or advanced on all sections of the test or complete various courses during senior year that heavily teach the material of the PSSAs with the help of a tutor.

However, the PSSA warm-ups were intended to prepare the students, especially the junior class, for the upcoming tests in March and April, steering them towards meeting AYP. Electives and core academic courses began each block every Wednesday with a PSSA warm-up, giving Wednesdays the familiar term “PSSA Wednesdays”. The warm-up worksheets rotated between math and reading comprehension questions, giving students a feel for the types of questions as well as the information on which they would be assessed during the actual assessment. Though many argued the warm-up questions were tedious, they not only enhanced students’ awareness of the tests’ format and subject matter, but provided them with confidence about the test altogether.

The PSSA task force, a diverse group of students, was initiated by science teacher Maureen Leeson and worked to encourage students to take the test seriously and participate when warm-ups were completed in class. The task force traveled among LHS classrooms during the month before the testing date, speaking about the importance of the tests to not only the district and LHS but all students as individuals, stressing the demand of the new PSSA graduation requirement. The task force also had the privilege to meet twice with the assistant secretary of education of Pennsylvania, Dr. Juan Baughn, to describe their efforts and brainstorm new ways to convince every student to strive to meet AYP.

LHS scores improved significantly last year, enough to almost meet AYP. All sections of last year’s junior class, including economically disadvantaged students and ELL or English Language Learners, met AYP with the exception of IEP, or Individualized Education Plan students. While many feel it was simply the graduation requirement that gave the class the extra push to improve so drastically, the efforts of the students and staff are also responsible for the academic success of the class of 2010.

Administration is very proud of the senior class on meeting AYP, a feat that has not been accomplished in several years here at LHS. The students are just as proud, and in response to the drastic improvement in scores, Principal JoAnn Durante is currently working on providing incentives to the senior class for their job well done. Members of the PSSA task force have met with Durante numerous times, presenting ideas they feel they deserve for their hard work. As task force members have been attempting to think of celebration activities that allow for the participation of the entire class, ideas including an indoor pool party and bonfire have been discussed.

The meetings between Leeson, the task force, and Durante concluded with the idea of holding an outdoor cookout during block 3 on Friday, October 9. All students who scored proficiently and advanced on the PSSAs attended the barbecue, eating food grilled by their teachers, enjoying inflatable games laid out on the Memorial Gym floor, and celebrating their commendable efforts. A raffle for homecoming tickets and athletic passes to the football games is also being conducted every Friday during morning announcements as an incentive for those who did exceptionally well on the PSSAs. The name of each student that scored proficiently or advanced on at least one section is put into the drawing and the winners’ names are called over the intercom for their prizes to be awarded.

Although the incentives Durante is granting to the senior class for their improvement are rewarding students for an accomplishment that is expected to be achieved consistently every year, the rewards can be used as motivation for those students taking the test in later years. The seniors are reaping the benefits of their hard work and determination to succeed. It is the only hope of LHS that this persistence and desire to be successful continues to show through the scores and work of our students.

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