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Fox Chapel focuses beyond the 'bubble' to help struggling and gifted students

The Fox Chapel Area School District outside Pittsburgh has earned numerous accolades, with each school in the district winning the US Department of Education's coveted Blue Ribbon award. Yet there was one group of students the district wanted to serve better: those with learning disabilities.

By using Pennsylvania's Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS) the district was able to better track year-to-year growth of all students. The result: A decade ago, learning-disabled 11th graders showed 14 percent proficiency in math and 29 percent proficiency in reading on state-mandated tests. Today, the proficiency level is 69 percent for both subjects.

"PVAAS helps us focus on the learning of each and every child," says Alicia Gismondi, Coordinator of Federal Programs and Student Achievement for Fox Chapel. PVAAS is powered by SAS®.

Available to all public and charter schools in Pennsylvania, PVAAS reports on students' predicted success at numerous academic milestones. Instead of a snapshot view of students that shows their current grades and test scores, PVAAS takes a multiyear view that predicts which students are at risk of not passing future tests. It can also help educators identify students who would benefit from advanced classes – some of whom are missed using conventional teacher recommendations.

The predictive capabilities within PVAAS help identify students who are at risk of falling behind. These could be students who are still reaching proficiency on state tests, but at dropping levels. By focusing on growth, rather than on who passed or failed a test in a given year, the school system makes sure that all students – ranging from the academically gifted to the academically at risk - are making progress. 

Helping struggling learners succeed
Fox Chapel students pass the state tests at rates in the 90th percentile and above, but like virtually every school system there is an achievement gap. Some students arrive in the school system two to three years behind. One year of instruction will likely not bring them up to proficiency. "So we need something to help measure whether we're starting to close those gaps," explains Gismondi.

In addition, PVAAS helps Fox Chapel see which interventions worked and which need retooling. It discovered, for instance, that one group of students benefited from a course that was more closely aligned with the core curriculum than its standard literacy intervention program meant for struggling learners.

Finally, Gismondi says the district loves the option that shows students who are passing tests, but are at risk for failing in future years. "These are students that are sliding downward within the proficient category, so the projection would indicate that maybe next year they're not going to be proficient, or in two years. This gives us the opportunity to jump in and really change that trajectory. It gets the child on the radar so teachers dig a little deeper to see what might be getting in the way of success."

Students with Individual Education Plans have been the biggest beneficiaries. PVAAS helps school systems track specific growth for these children, who typically have learning disabilities, from year to year. In 10 years, the passing rates have jumped from 14 percent in math and 29 percent in reading to 69 percent for both subjects. "It's helped us focus on the learning of each and every child," Gismondi says.

Encouraging growth for academically gifted children
On the other end of the spectrum, Fox Chapel is concerned that its most academically gifted students get adequate attention. Just like PVAAS helps Fox Chapel predict which kids are likely to slip into the nonproficient category, it can also look at gifted students and make sure they are getting one or more years of academic growth. Teachers can figure out where and how to differentiate to expand growth opportunities. The PVAAS profile is also helpful in discussions with parents of gifted students, who are sometimes concerned that their children aren't getting the push they need. "It's not necessarily an indicator that they are getting everything they need, but when we can demonstrate that we've exceeded the growth standard that's meaningful for our parents," Gismondi says.

Fox Chapel also uses PVAAS to find students best able to benefit from taking advanced placement (AP) classes in high school. "We tend to have a lot of kids choosing that particular track, and sometimes they get in and they struggle. There are also kids that are identified by that particular list that might never consider taking an AP course. Teachers can talk to them and say 'Hey, we have some data indicating you could be successful here, why don't you consider this for next year?' High school teachers are pretty enthusiastic about the report," Gismondi says.

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Fox Chapel Area School District (PVAAS)

Business Issue:
Ensuring all children, whether academically gifted or academically at risk, are making adequate yearly progress.
Solution:
Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System powered by SAS.
Benefits:
In one decade, the school system increased the passing rates for learning-disabled students on state-mandated tests from 14 percent in math and 29 percent in reading to 69 percent for both subjects.

"We want to grow all our students, whether they are high achieving or they have special needs. PVAAS helps us do that.''

Alicia Gismondi

Coordinator of Federal Programs and Student Achievement

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