Wednesday, July 15, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 15: Pa. says 2015 standardized test scores dropped precipitously because of added rigor

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 15, 2015:
Pa. says 2015 standardized test scores dropped precipitously because of added rigor

"Department officials attribute the declines to the increased rigor of the state standardized tests.  This past school year was the first in which every question aligned with the Pennsylvania Core Standards – which are similar, but not identical to the Common Core standards adopted in other states.  Last week, based on the new standards, the Pennsylvania Board of Education voted to readjust its expectations for how the more difficult tests would be scored – setting new cutoffs for "advanced," "proficient," "basic" and "below basic." This process is known as setting the "cut scores."  With the changes, the state has made it substantially more difficult for students to earn a proficient designation on its tests."
Pa. says 2015 standardized test scores dropped precipitously because of added rigor
The number of Pennsylvania students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" on state standardized tests in 2014-15 has fallen precipitously compared with the previous year.
And it marks four straight years of testing declines.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education confirms the drop, but will not provide specifics – citing the need to finalize data.
But a chart available on the department's website offers the ability to provide a clearer picture by crunching the data.  Analysis shows that an additional 35.4 percent of the state's students in grades three through eight have fallen into "basic" or "below basic" designations for math on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exam.  An additional 9.4 percent of these students have fallen into those categories, on average, in English language arts.

Pennsylvania Manufactures Massive Test Failure
Huffington Post by Peter Greene Posted: 07/12/2015 4:34 pm EDT 
Brace yourself, Pennsylvanians. The new cut scores for last years Big Standardized Tests have been set, and they are not pretty.  It was only this week the State Board of Education met to accept the recommendations of their Council of Basic Education. Because, yes -- cut scores are set after test results are in, not before. You'll see why shortly.  A source at those meetings passed along some explanation of how all this works. We'll get to the bad news in a minute, but first -- here's how we get there.
How Are Scores Set?
In PA, when it comes to ranking students, we stick with good, old-fashioned Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The cut scores -- the scores that decide where we draw the line between those designations -- come from two groups.

As Pa. budget talks stall, campaign tactics fill the void
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON JULY 15, 2015
The political debate over the state budget has hit a lull within the walls of Pennsylvania's Capitol, but it's very much alive on roadside billboards, radio ads, and in mailboxes.  "We're in a messaging war, but that's on both sides," said Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, this week.  GOP ally Americans for Prosperity has radio ads and billboards blasting the governor for trying to raise taxes.  An affiliate of the Democratic Governors Association has its own TV and radio ads, as well as mailers slamming individual Republicans for not supporting the governor's budget vision.  State Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, said the attacks on lawmakers will hurt Wolf's ability to make a deal with Republicans.  "Oh my gosh, yeah. Definitely," said Scavello. "Because, you know what, I could be one of those swing votes, I tell you right now." And after his district was blanketed by critical mailers? Not so much, Scavello said.  "It's called communication," said a disdainful Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. He said there's nothing unexpected about the current messaging war – including any proxy-attacks against lawmakers. "It has no interference with the negotiating practice, and it's exactly what we would all do," Hughes said.

Democrats meet with Gov. Wolf on budget
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Democratic legislative leaders met with Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday where they discussed the progress of talks on getting to an agreement on a budget as well as natural gas extraction tax and property tax relief proposals.  “We’re trying to understand how it is that Speaker Turzai does not want to do a Marcellus Shale tax that at the end of the day means that we’re not going to provide education funding for our kids,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) told The PLS Reporter. “That’s disturbing to us and we’re just trying to get our arms around that.”  While he did not comment on what strategy might develop to have severance tax negotiations that do not include the Speaker, Sen. Costa indicated Democrats will continue to try to build consensus with Republicans and the governor on getting to a budget.

Democratic leaders further budget talks with Gov. Tom Wolf
Penn Live By Christian Alexandersen | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on July 14, 2015 at 3:38 PM
Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate met with Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday morning as part of ongoing budget talks with lawmakers.  House Democratic Spokesman Bill Patton said the meeting between Democratic leaders and the governor went well. Democrats are unified in pushing for better school funding, lower property taxes and closing the deficit with sustainable revenues, he said.  Following the budget meeting, Wolf traveled to Philadelphia to give a speech at the NAACP annual conference.  Senate Majority Caucus Spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said she is not aware of any meetings between Republicans and the governor on Tuesday.

'Don't be fooled' by Wolf attacks, House GOP lawmaker bites back in mailer: Tuesday Morning Coffee
House Republican mailer hitting back against PAC-funded budget attacks.
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on July 14, 2015 at 8:27 AM, updated July 14, 2015 at 9:29 AM
(*This piece has been updated to include comment from House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin.)
Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
House Republicans are hitting back against attacks by the Democratic Governors Association in a new bulk mailing to voters, warning them to not "be fooled" as tensions ratchet ever upward in Budget Impasse 2015.  Normally, lawmakers reserve these mailers for voter updates and news on local goings-on. This is the first time we can recall them being enlisted in the cause of a budgetary back-and-forth -- particularly in response to attacks by a third-party issue group.  
Here's a look at one obtained by PennLive Opinion this week:

PA-BGT: Don’t Expect a Budget This Week
PoliticsPA Written by Jason Addy, Contributing Writer July 14, 2015
At this rate, the state budget may not be passed before PA schools are back in session, with school funding at thecenter of the storm in Harrisburg.  Relations between Gov. Tom Wolf’s office and GOP legislative leaders are being strained to the breaking point, two weeks after Wolf vetoed a GOP-passed budget, leaving the state to enter the new fiscal year without a taxing and spending plan.  On Monday, Wolf took his “Schools that Teach” tour to the home districts of Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, both Republicans. While not an unusual move from a Governor, Wolf did not extend an invitation to either legislator, leaving discussions on the edge of turning sour.  Monday morning, Wolf held a seemingly fruitless meeting with GOP President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati.  “I want to have a conversation,” Wolf told reporters outside. “I want to move beyond the posturing that these meetings have been and get into actually some substantive conversations.”

New proposed state education funding By Christian Heilman | 07/13 2015 06:14PM
Everett, Bedford County, Pa.
This new formula is the result of a bipartisan committee. One of the major changes is giving school districts more money if they're growing in population -- but where does that leave school districts like some in our region that have been seeing enrollment drop?  The halls inside Everett High School are empty -- but work is well underway making sure dollars are in line for the upcoming school year.  "We've been nervous for quite a few years -- at least the last three years with school funding," said Everett Area School District Superintendent Danny Webb.  It's a system that needed serious work according to the secretary of education.  "Well there was no old system. We were one of only three states in the country that didn't have a funding formula for education," said Secretary Pedro Rivera, Department of Education.

Editorial: School formula hardly harmless
Pocono Record Editorial Posted Jul. 14, 2015 at 6:12 PM
State Rep. David Parker, R-115, is calling needed attention to Pennsylvania's misguided “hold-harmless” and other provisions that create funding imbalances for local school districts.
Parker cites the recently released Basic Education Funding Commission report that found 320 of the state’s 500 school districts are receiving $1 billion more than warranted, while 180 districts, including financially strapped school districts in Monroe County, receive $1 billion less annually than they need. These districts have lost billions of dollars in funding since 1991, when lawmakers adopted the so-called “hold harmless” policy, which guaranteed no district would ever receive less funding. As a result even districts that lost students continued receiving funding at the same rate or more, at the expense of districts like those in Monroe, which grew rapidly in the early 2000s. Parker estimates state government underfunded Monroe's districts by more than $717 million over that period. Meanwhile taxpayers have shouldered a crushing burden of school taxes.

Property tax elimination closer than ever?
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Sponsors of a proposal to eliminate school property taxes in Pennsylvania are feeling more optimistic than ever before about its chances for passage.  “We are closer than we have ever been before in this long, painful process, but we still have a long way to go,” Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) told The PLS Reporter. “We believe we have the votes that we need for the first time in the Senate.”  His proposal, Senate Bill 76, plans to eliminate Pennsylvania’s school property taxes by raising the personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.34 percent and increasing the sales tax from six to seven percent while also expanding the base.  Those tax increases would also rise with inflation based upon the statewide weekly wage.  Sen. Argall anticipates the proposal will raise $12 billion, enough money to completely eliminate the school property tax.

State's demon property tax remains elusive
THE GREAT WHITE Whale of Pennsylvania politics, the property tax, is swimming away from yet another effort to kill or curtail it.  This despite Gov. Wolf and Republicans saying they want reform and want it now and, my goodness, how historic it'll be.  Yet this bipartisan goal, presenting opportunity for bipartisan credit, is poised to join many other reforms in a capital city known best as a graveyard of good ideas.  Why? Tradition and politics.
The tax is regressive and loathed; unfair to those on fixed incomes; complex due to uneven assessments across 67 counties; challenging for poorer school districts struggling to raise local money; and wildly different across the state.
The median annual tax in Forest County is $860; in Chester County, $4,192.
The scope of the issue is, as Donald Trump would say, huuuuge.
Property taxes total about $14 billion. Elimination means finding money to replace that hefty sum.

For too long, Pa. has failed too many students Opinion By State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 1:07 AM
It's budget season in Pennsylvania, and once again our schools need more money.
I am once again prepared to lead that fight in Harrisburg, but for the first time in recent memory, this budget battle is bigger than just money.  All over Pennsylvania, people are realizing that money alone cannot fix the problems of public education. Schools need to be accountable to the children and families they serve, and it's time we accepted this fact, too. It is a major part of the Philadelphia mayoral campaign, it has been the dominant theme in recent research on public education, and last month, City Council even conditioned an award of additional local tax dollars on a measurable set of school performance factors.

Learn more about the Easton Cyber Academy
By Rudy Miller | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter on July 14, 2015 at 2:38 PM, updated July 14, 2015 at 2:39 PM
Parents considering enrolling their children in the new Easton Area School District-affiliated cyber school can learn more at an information session next month.  The Easton Cyber Academy's parent information meeting will be 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the Easton Area Middle School 7/8 library, 1010 Echo Trail in Forks TownshipThe school board approved the academy in March. The district can save itself tens of thousand of dollars by luring back students who enrolled at cyber charter schools.  Last year the district had 169 cyber-school students, who cost $10,000 to $20,000 to educate elsewhereVLN Partners runs the program.  The Easton Cyber Academy is tuition-free. Its students can participate in Eastib Area extracurricular activities and athletics, have access to district facilities, and graduate with an Easton Area High School diploma.

School property taxes rising at 14 of 17 Lancaster County districts
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Wednesday, July 15, 2015 6:30 am
Another year, another school tax increase.
That's how local homeowners may feel as tax bills go out this month.
With little certainty on Harrisburg's budget by the end of June, 14 of 17 Lancaster County school boards voted to raise local property tax rates for 2015-16.  The hikes range from 1 percent in Hempfield and Manheim Central to 4 percent in Elizabethtown. The average increase is 1.7 percent.  The increases continue a years-long trend as districts have responded to the economic recession, state and federal budget cuts and rising mandated costs, such as pensions. Local school districts have raised taxes by an average of 38 percent in the last decade.

11 Numbers to know about Lancaster County school budgets
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Wednesday, July 15, 2015 6:30 am
Changes to Pennsylvania school funding have been widely promoted in the last year, but neither Gov. Tom Wolf's promised increases nor changes to the state funding formula were certain when district budgets were due on June 30.  Without guarantees, school boards across Lancaster County opted for tax hikes, program cuts and the use of reserve funds to balance budgets.
Here are 11 noteworthy numbers about local school budgets.

Senate rejects plan to allow parents to opt out of state standardized tests
Washington Post By Emma Brown July 14 at 5:10 PM  
The Senate on Tuesday defeated an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act that would have allowed parents nationwide to opt out of state standardized tests without putting school districts at risk of federal sanctions.   The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said.  But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — the Republican co-sponsor of the carefully crafted bipartisan bill — spoke forcefully against the proposal, saying it would strip states of the right to decide whether to allow parents to opt out.  “I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” said Alexander, who has framed the bill as an effort to transfer power over education from the federal government to the states.
The vote sets up an important difference to reconcile between the House and Senate bills to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main federal education law.

Amid Cries of Overtesting, a Crazy Quilt of State Responses
Education Week By Andrew Ujifusa Published Online: July 8, 2015
After years of outcry and intensifying public debate about whether students are overtested, many states are attempting to definitively address the issue this year. But there's no consistent strategy across the country, and just what the proposed solutions will mean for assessments could vary dramatically.  The Council of Chief State School Officers says that 39 states are examining how to reduce overtesting or cut redundant tests in some fashion, as part of their efforts to "reduce unnecessary burden" from testing.  Yet many states, rather than placing hard caps on testing time or cutting specific exams through legislation, are choosing to hand responsibility for reducing testing to new state commissions or to work directly with local schools.

Blogger note: there are approximately 120 Gulen charter schools in the US
In Blow to Erdogan, Turkish Court Halts Closing of Schools Tied to His Rival
New York Times By CEYLAN YEGINSU JULY 14, 2015
ISTANBUL — In a blow to the government, Turkey’s highest court has overturned a law that would have closed thousands of preparatory schools linked to an influential Muslim cleric and rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  The Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that the legislation to shut the schools, passed in 2014 while Mr. Erdogan was prime minister and his governing Justice and Development Party had a majority in Parliament, violated the freedom of education enshrined in the Turkish Constitution, according to local news reports. Although the court’s decision was handed down on Monday, it was not expected to be published until Wednesday.  The schools, attended by students seeking to pass national high school and university entrance exams, are run by Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. He presides over a network of millions of followers worldwide, some of whom hold high-ranking positions in law enforcement, the judiciary and business in Turkey.

Nominations for PSBA's Allwein Advocacy Award now open
PSBA July 7, 2015
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  The 2015 Allwein Award nomination process will close on Aug. 28, 2015. The 2015 Allwein Award Nomination Form is available online. More details on the award and nominations process can be found online

Register Now – PAESSP State Conference – Oct. 18-20 – State College, PA
Registration is now open for PAESSP's State Conference to be held October 18-20 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College, PA! This year's theme is @EVERYLEADER and features three nationally-known keynote speakers (Dr. James Stronge, Justin Baeder and Dr. Mike Schmoker), professional breakout sessions, a legal update, exhibits, Tech Learning Labs and many opportunities to network with your colleagues (Monday evening event with Jay Paterno).  Once again, in conjunction with its conference, PAESSP will offer two 30-hour Act 45 PIL-approved programs, Linking Student Learning to Teacher Supervision and Evaluation (pre-conference offering on 10/17/15); and Improving Student Learning Through Research-Based Practices: The Power of an Effective Principal (held during the conference, 10/18/15 -10/20/15). Register for either or both PIL programs when you register for the Full Conference!
REGISTER TODAY for the Conference and Act 45 PIL program/s at:

Apply now for EPLC’s 2015-2016 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program
Applications are available now for the 2015-2016 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  With more than 400 graduates in its first sixteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.  Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, charter school leaders, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders.  Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.  The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 17-18, 2015 and continues to graduation in June 2016.
Click here to read about the Education Policy Fellowship Program.

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