College readiness lacking for area HS students

Area students show aptitude on industry standards-based exams but fall short on meeting college readiness benchmarks, Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles show.

While Blair, Cambria and Bedford county high school students exceeded benchmarks for performance on industry standards-based assessments, they seldom came close to a positive performance for college readiness-based on SAT and ACT scores and participation from last year.

Regarding college-readiness across Pennsylvania, nearly 25 percent of all schools with grade 12 students, reached the SAT and ACT benchmark (70 on a scale of 100) state Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said.

“The department expects improvement in all academic areas with increased student learning and with a more rigorous curriculum,” he said.

College-readiness may rise in the future if the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards for school curriculum prove to help students become college-ready.

“We will see if that happens,” Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 Executive Director Thomas Butler said. The organization assists 35 school districts in the region to implement the standards.

The statistics included in school profiles don’t reveal new trends, school officials said, but make information that has been available more transparent.

At Glendale, the transparency of its performance profile has loosened school funds to provide college-level courses and PSAT preparation this year.

The district has not provided those college-ready opportunities in the past for budgetary reasons.

“It is difficult to provide these things at a small school,” Superintendent Arnold Nadonley said.

Looking at a statewide landscape of school performance profiles, 44 of 81 schools with enrollment of up to 500 students fell in the state’s lowest college readiness benchmark. School performance is calculated by dividing the number of grade 12 students successful in SAT and ACT exams by a snapshot of total class enrollment. (see chart)

With the Glendale Junior-Senior High School facing judgment for college readiness of students, Nadonley said this year the district is increasing PSAT participation, dual enrollment courses and providing teacher software at a collective cost of roughly $100,000. It is a roll-with-the-punches reaction to Harrisburg’s new measuring stick.

“What we are doing with college preparedness this year is we implemented a lot of programs to increase that [college-ready benchmark],” he said. “If you look at school performance profiles, you get points for those factors [college-level course offerings and PSAT participation].”

Based on exam scores from among a total of 61 grade 12 students, Glendale scored one of the lowest college readiness scores in the state. It also showed to have limited college-level course offerings and PSAT participation.

School officials who have resolved to increase PSAT participation, by paying students’ exam fees, for example, are braced to see lower SAT scores as students who don’t traditionally take the SATs make the effort.

“To me, I think a lot of kids don’t attempt it because they think they won’t do well. To encourage them opens up the proverbial door,” Blairsville-Saltsburg School District Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness said.

The rural schools where students met the college-ready benchmark have smaller percentages of students considered “economically disadvantaged,” by the state.

However, career-readiness in technical fields in many cases (see chart) is strong regardless of students’ economic status. Exams for career-ready courses administered by school districts or the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center bear that out.

Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center Executive Director Lanny Ross said the results are an indication that some students should not be on a college track.

“In my experience, there is no better way to relate to a young person than through work,” Ross said. “Vocational-technical education is a medium that lends itself to get the most out of its students.”

At Bellwood-Antis School District, students exceeded both industry standards-based and college-ready benchmarks.

“We usually have 70 percent of our students who want to go on to the collegiate level, and that’s the focus students have,” Superintendent Brian Toth said.

“That certainly doesn’t preclude us from encouraging kids from going into career and vocational education,” he said. “We allow students and parents to decide on what the student wants to be. We provide the skills necessary to be successful in both career paths.”