(WHTM) — Standardized test scores from the 2022-2023 school year are out. The Pennsylvania Department of Education says English, math and science scores have improved statewide, but not all Midstate school districts follow that pattern.
Some Midstate schools saw much smaller improvements or even lost ground, but lawmakers and school administrators say they are working on multiple ways to catch up.
“We want those results to be the best that they can possibly be,” Carlisle Area School District Assistant Superintendent Michael Gogoj.
One area to improve, he says, is math.
“We’re in the middle of, in the second year of a major overhaul of our K-5 math program,” he said.
The school district’s elementary school students’ test scores held steady from the 2021-2022 to 2022-2023 school year, but only 22% of middle school students tested proficient this year, compared to 27% in the previous year.
“They’re not as fluent with basic math,” Gojog said, adding that part of the K-5 program overhaul focuses on adding more review of basic math concepts.
However, Gogoj said students need other supports besides curriculum change. Carlisle is seeing more lower-income students and students whose first language is not English.
“We’re seeing our demographics shift to where we have to work on addressing more of those barriers,” Gojog said.
In response, the district has added more special education and English learning staff. Gojog said it has also added school counselors, including a homeless and at-risk counselor.
This shift in student needs is also happening across the river.
“There’s big disparity gaps in terms of what more affluent school districts have,” said Rep. Dave Madsen, a state Democrat representing part of Dauphin County.
Madsen’s district includes the Central Dauphin, Harrisburg and Steelton-Highspire school districts, some of which lag far behind the state average proficiency rates.
Just 6 percent of third through fifth graders in Steelton-Highspire tested proficient in math, and even fewer — just 3 percent — of middle schoolers did. English language scores are also low. Harrisburg has similarly low scores, with very little improvement from year to year.
Central Dauphin students scored near or above the state average in reading, but math scores feel for both elementary and middle school students, with less than a third of third through fifth graders testing proficient, and even less — 18 percent- of middle schoolers.
“What I’m really afraid of is due to the pause that COVID created that we’re at risk of a lost generation,” Madsen said.
Madsen, who sits on the appropriations committee, said the best way to help these struggling districts is with more funding.
“They just don’t have the tax base that some of these other areas have, so they need to make up those differences in terms of resources,” he said.
However, both Madsen and Gogoj both said, while standardized tests are important, they are not the only measure of success.
“Test scores are a snapshot,” Madsen said.
Gogoj added, “Many of our students who may not find success on standardized tests…are finding success in a trade.”
Gogoj and Madsen also agreed changing the curriculum alone is not going to close the gap. They said school districts need to support students inside and out of the classroom.