Northgate addresses scores, ranking

The Northgate School District will be adding some programs to its existing arsenal in an attempt to improve students’ learning and test performance, and to increase the district’s performance ranking both locally and across the state.

Director of curriculum and assessment Shaun Tomaszewski presented recommendations to the school board at its committee of the whole meeting Monday night. Among them were scheduling changes for middle and high school students, and a new program that will partner with the Community College of Allegheny County to provide additional electives and possibly even allow students to earn college credits.

Tomaszewski said that the state’s criteria for measuring school performance will change soon from one based primarily on assessment test scores to one that includes other factors that reflect a student’s “future readiness.”

There are independent organizations, however, he said, that rank schools annually. Among them is the Pittsburgh Business Times, which ranks Northgate 79th out of 120 area schools, and 408 of 499 schools statewide.

More than half of all Northgate seniors have a GPA of 3.5 or better, he said, but many are still struggling to get high enough scores in the state assessment exams. On the Keystone exam, for instance, Tomaszewski said that Northgate students’ scores are in line with those of students from across the state. In algebra and biology, however, the percentage of Northgate students passing the exams are half that of the statewide average. The same holds true for the PSSA test given to middle school students, where, once again, math scores are lower.

Tomaszewski noted that students also are struggling with college entrance exams. Only 15 students took the ACT – a test similar to the SAT – last year, he said, but only one-third met college readiness scores in all subjects.

One way of enriching the curriculum to better educate students is switching to a new way of scheduling classes, which will go into effect with the new school year next fall. Currently, high school students attend the same classes at the same times, Monday through Friday, Tomaszewski said. With the new “AB” schedule that will be implemented, students will have classes that they take on “A” days, and those that they take on “B” days. The classes will be longer in duration, allowing for expanded lessons and also for cross-curriculum classes. The change also will allow for more challenging advanced placement (AP) electives to be offered, he said.

Superintendent Caroline Johns said that Northgate’s struggle to increase test scores puts the district in the position to develop some innovative programs, such as the collaboration with CCAC that was approved by the board later in the evening.

As part of this program, Northgate students will be able to take some classes offered by CCAC, which will be taught in-house by Northgate teachers. Students also can opt to receive college credit for those classes. This “middle college” program will allow all Northgate high school students to graduate with 30 college credits, while students taking AP classes could earn as many as 60 credits. Those credits are transferable to other colleges. There is a cost to the district for the courses offered, Tomaszewski said, and administrators are still working on how to fund that option.

Johns said that administrators will hold meetings with parents to discuss the changes planned.