Pattye Benson

Community Matters

2015 Pennsylvania School District Rankings based on PSSAs: Unionville Chadds Ford retains top spot, Radnor in 2nd and TE School District drops to 7th! Anti-Standardized testing movement gaining traction locally!

There is an opt-out movement against standardized testing in public schools playing out across the country. Opponents of the exams argue that too much time in public education is spent teaching to the test, stressing out students and teachers and detracting from real learning time. Locally, the anti-standardized testing is gaining traction among parents in Lower Merion, Radnor and Tredyffrin Easttown School Districts – just as the Pennsylvania school district PSSA standings for 2015 are released.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) formula ranks the school districts based on three years of state standardized test scores, giving the most weight to the current year. The PSSA is a standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math. Reading and math is assessed in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11 and science assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The rankings do not denote the overall quality and performance of the school district, only the PSSA scores.

A Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud. Proponents of standardized testing view PSSA scores as a reliable predictor of future success. As a tool for student assessment, the PSSA exam helps measure and provides useful information of what students are learning. The PSSAs measure the performance of the entire class and provide of measurement of how an overall class is performing. But some parents have chosen not to have their kids participate, claiming the tests cause undue stress for kids, and have no direct benefit.

The Pennsylvania school district’s PSSA rankings for 2015 are now available and reported in Pittsburgh Business Times. This is the fifth consecutive year that I have tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by the PSSA results. Results reveal that Unionville Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) in Chester County is holding on to top placement. The yellow highlighted line in the chart below indicates that T/E School District has fallen in PSSA rankings each year during the last five years. The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth place in 2014 and for 2015 dropped to seventh place in the PSSA rankings.

2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 School District (County)
8 4 1 1 1 Upper St. Clair (Allegheny)
5 2 2 5 6 Mt. Lebanon (Allegheny)
1 1 3 2 3 Unionville-Chadds Ford (Chester)
7 5 4 3 2 Tredyffrin-Easttown(Chester)
10 8 5 6 5 North Allegheny (Allegheny)
2 3 6 4 4 Radnor (Delaware)
4 6 7 7 9 Hampton Township (Allegheny)
3 7 8 10 12 South Fayette Township(Allegheny)
6 9 9 8 7 Lower Merion (Montgomery)
12 12 10 9 8 Central Bucks (Bucks)
9 10 11 13 15 Wallingford-Swarthmore (Delaware)
13 13 12 12 11 Fox Chapel Area (Allegheny)
16 11 13 14 13 Great Valley (Chester)
15 15 14 11 11 Peters Township (Washington)
11 14 15 19 19 Rose Tree Media (Delaware)

After UCFSD (Chester County) in the PSSA rankings, Radnor (Delaware County) moved up to second place, followed by South Fayette (Alleghany County) in third, Hampton Township (Alleghany County) in fourth, Mt. Lebanon (Alleghany County) in fifth and Lower Merion (Montgomery County) moved up from ninth to sixth.

Interesting to note that Radnor and Lower Merion School Districts advanced on the state-wide PSSA rankings; both districts ahead of TE, which dropped to seventh. The TE School District has continued a steady downward movement in the PSSA rankings during the same period that Radnor and Lower Merion school district improved their scores. The question is why are the PSSA rankings going down in TE rather than up. The only other local Chester County school district represented at the top of the PSSA rankings chart is the Great Valley School District, which dropped from eleventh to sixteenth in the 2015 list.

We know that Pennsylvania parents that oppose standardized testing is advancing. In 2012, only 260 Pennsylvania students opted out of the math and reading PSSAs. In 2014, more than 1,000 of the 800,000+ eligible students opted not to take the tests according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It will be interesting to see if the PSSA rankings change substantially as the students opting out of the standardized testing increases.

Parents in TE School District have arranged for the screening of the documentary, “Standardized Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education” created by a Berks County teacher is scheduled for the Saturday Club in Wayne on April 27 at 7 PM. According to the film’s website, its purpose is to “shed light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that’s involved.”

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  1. The current highest-paid superintendent in Chester County, according to the state’s numbers, is Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s Daniel Waters,

    By Frank Otto, Mercury News in an article talking about the Phoenixville School Districts Supt. pay increase.

    1. Good article which talks about points I’ve been making for years. When School Districts look at salary numbers for their Supt.’s, they look at competing districts to determine the rate. When TESD, pushes our Supt. pay to the highest in the land, it serves to push all the other Supt. pay around TESD up too.

      Then, salarys for Admins. surrounding the Supt. position are elevated, Art McDonnell and others make more than the highest paid governor in the country, regardless of bad behavior, avoidance of communication with citizens and disrespectful and unprofessional responses to RTK requests.

      It is a well oiled machine, operated by School Districts and paid for by tax payers who have no say in the decision making process.

      And the cycle continues to push salaries and benefits higher and higher and higher, paid for by tax payers who have suffered a great economic downturn and who don’t get the same and never will.

      1. I was right with you Shining Light until, “paid for by tax payers who have no say in the decision making process.”

        In the tradition of a representative democracy, tax payers in Pennsylvania are represented in a school district’s decision making process by their duly elected school board members.

        If your board member(s) isn’t representing your views, it may be time to elect different board members, or even run yourself!

  2. Thanks Ken. You’re right. There are 5 available seats for School Board Director this November. I hope everyone takes your great advice and gets out there and votes in Directors who best represent their views.

    I’m not an expert on the Constitution, but I do find it interesting and have read many books on the subject. We are not a democracy. Not one place in the constitution is the word democracy mentioned. We are a republic, a form of government in which power resides in elected individuals representing the citizen body, and government leaders exercise power according to the rule of law.

    “And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under……” (Oh boy, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, not going to go there)

    Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
    — John Adams, 2nd President of the United States

    “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”
    — Benjamin Franklin, leader of the American Revolution

    A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
    — Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, author of the Bill of Rights

  3. Any teacher who has more than five years of experience can attest to the effects of the increased focus on standardized testing in schools. The administration, along with high level support area teachers, continue to stress that we will not be a district that teaches towards a test… but, year after year I feel more pressure to teach towards the test. Over the past few years, I have seen some of the best teachers and paras in our district leave because of the drastic changes happening in education. They did not seek jobs in another school district, but a completely different line of work. As time passes, I worry that this trend will continue.

  4. as a visiting speaker in a second grade class in February (not our school district), after my presentation the kids asked me if I wanted to see a skit.. the teacher, who had previously showed me reams of taken tests, day by day by the kids, said sure.. I stayed.. it took 10 minutes.. the title was “no more tests”.. THE SECOND GRADERS, smart, energetic, eager to learn, were PROTESTING about too many tests they have to take…. I guess it takes the fun and inquisition out of learning…

    Common Core… PSSA’s all of them… chuck em in the garbage.. let the teachers teach, AND test when THEY think it important to do so.. the kids are crying out for help…

  5. Below is from an article by Karen Cresta from the Unionville Times entitled,Chromebooks pilot approved; Elementary trimester schedule approved; high school student-led study to delay start time ok’d
    “Board member Jeff Hellrung reviewed an initiative that would potentially delay the start of the school day for high school students that a psychology class at Unionville High School began. The results of the student-led research found that students are going to bed late and are being deprived of sleep and it would be a real benefit to student wellness to delay the opening of the school day at the high school level.

    Two seniors and two sophomores from UHS presented their findings at the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) board meeting. After the persuasive case was presented on why the school day should be delayed for high schoolers, approval was given to go ahead for student representatives in all of Chester County to pursue how it can be done keeping in mind after school activities, busing, and child care issues.

    The chosen students for this county-wide project will be trained at the IU in team skills such as working on a team, roles on a team, research, surveys and presentations.

    “I think we have a really good chance of totally reshaping the look of the school day in our whole county and if we do it, it’s going to be led by our own local students – high school students,” Hellrung said.

    Board member Kathleen Do said, “This is a very big deal what they are doing. It is coming from studies throughout the country and then it ended up right here at Unionville High School where we did a study.”

    If this comes to pass it’s going to change a lot of lives not only for the students but for the parents and I think it is a really positive change,” Do added”

    Kudo’s to the students of UCF for their student-led research and Kudos to the Unionville Chadsford School Board and Chester County Intermediate Unit for allowing these students to present their findings and pushing forward for a county wide project involving student reps in all of Chester County.

    I agree with Board Director Do when she says:

    “This is a very big deal what they are doing.”


      Chesco students plot course to later school starts, more shut-eye

      Typically, the push for change has come from parents. But the Unionville-Chadds Ford effort is being led by those with the most to gain: students.

      School officials say they have encouraged their pursuit of a workable plan.

      “The kids got the ball rolling,” said Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board member Jeff Hellrung.

      Daniels, 17, said the idea took shape three years ago when he was a freshman and a teacher challenged his class to do something to make the school day better. Noticing that his friends were always tired and chugging extra-large Starbucks drinks, he and others decided to investigate.

      From a National Sleep Foundation study, they learned that more than 85 percent of adolescents get fewer than the recommended 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep; that teens have delayed circadian rhythms that make it harder to fall asleep at night and get up in the morning; that car accidents and suicide, two of the biggest killers of teens, are affected by chronic sleep deprivation. They found that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all called for later start times.

      Go UCFSD students!

  6. Go to “Sleeping in, a good idea for teens”
    Posted by Rich Schwartzman on April 22nd, 2015, to read the article in it’s entirety.

    This is an article posted on the Chadsford Live site which serves the Unionville Chasford School District, and also Home to School Board Director Keith Knauss who used to post on this site.

    Great Job Keith and Jeff! This is incredible!

    Most people know that teenagers like to sleep in, and it seems that allowing for that, up to a point, is a good idea for high school students.

    Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board Director Jeff Hellrung began making that case during the April 20 school board meeting at Hillendale Elementary School.

    He said scientific studies have shown teen students function better and more safely if they can get a little extra sleep in the morning. To that end, he said, a group of four students from Unionville High School — Matthew Daniels, Sami Seidenberger, Alice Liu and Gabe Masters — gave a presentation to the Chester County Intermediate Unit on April 15 regarding a later start time for high school classes.

    According to Hellrung, Intermediate Unit Director Joe O’Brien was so impressed with the presentation that he decided the UHS students should get involved with a broader IU student council to conduct a two-phase study on the subject.

    Hellrung said O’Brien went to the council and asked them what they thought of the idea and “the kids went bananas,” saying the study was long overdue.

    In a telephone interview after the meeting, Hellrung said the first phase includes researching the scientific literature on the subject, then making a formal presentation. The IU will provide training to the group on how to work together and reach consensus, how to research, and how to make a presentation.

    If, after that presentation, the IU board thinks the idea has merit and warrants further study, then a second — more difficult — phase would begin. That second phase would explore the practical application of having high school days begin an hour later.

    The question to be answered is: “How can we make this happen in a way that meets the constraints that we’re working under,” Hellrung said.


    The constraints Hellrung refers to are transportation, class scheduling, after school sports etc. Hellrung says the presentation should be concluded by the end of the next school year and that kids from each school district would make the pitch to their individual school board for a 1 hour later start time.

    Hellrung says each county would act on it’s own but it would be great if we could all agree.

    What a great experience for each and every one of these kids. All the better if their hard work pays off and they can persuade school boards across the county to address this very important issue by delaying high school start times by 1 hour.

    1. As a follow up to my reporting on the sleep study initiative (see above)where Unionville Chaddsford School Director Jeff Hellrung made a case for later start times in April of 2015:
      Read from the Unionvilletimes Mike McGann editor

      Alice Liu, student representative for the high school, reported on the happenings in the school and welcomed Matthew Daniels to the mic to speak about the sleep study work with the Chester County Student Forum and the possibility of delayed start times for students.

      Daniels explained that the concept started after the American Pediatric Association released studies finding that high school students performed better with a delayed start time than the traditional 7:30 a.m. start time. He said that after two years, the continuation for the study was approved and the Student Forum is going back to their perspective schools and are doing independent studies and documenting the pros and cons. By year’s end, a final proposal will be brought before the Chester County Board of Education.

      From the Main Line Times, Parents in LMSD are also interested in later start times. Please read:

      “Research has shown that lack of sleep is a significant impairment, one that is tied to mental and physical health issues, sports injuries, drowsy driving, accidents and fatalities particularly in teen drivers. Furthermore too little sleep impairs learning, concentration, memory and academic achievement particularly for students at the lower end of the academic spectrum.”

      With concern over stress in the schools, a push is taking place from some parents and students asking the Lower Merion School District for later start times for high school students at the district’s two high schools.

      I don’t know if CHS students are participating in the sleep study initiative through the Student Forum sponsored by the CCIU, headed by Intermediate Unit Director Joe O’Brien. My Shining Light goes dark every time I bring up the topic.

      If anyone has information on this topic, I would appreciate the communication. Thanks.

  7. From t/e news letter sent every Friday:

    Conestoga High School Ranked Fifth Most Challenging High School in PA
    The Washington Post’s America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranking has listed Conestoga High School as the fifth most challenging high school in Pennsylvania. According to, the rankings are based on an index score and the site states, “The index score is the number of college-level tests given at a school in the previous calendar year divided by the number of graduates that year.”

    From T/E Patch:

    The Post’s analysis does not factor in scores from the college-level exams, just the number of tests that are given to the students. According to an explanation by one for the editors, the study is intended to measure a school’s efforts to offer advanced classes, not the students’ performances.

    “The Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests,” said the Post’s Jay Mathews in describing the methodology.

  8. I would not worry about the top schools in PA,however I would be more concerned with low performing schools districts. The high performing schools have the tools to be successful and need to share what make them successful to low performing schools.
    Recently in the news Chester Upland has been in the news based on funding cuts especially to the district, charters and special education.
    Here is the problem with standardized testing plainly it comes down to the schools.
    Each district has an alloted money from the state and local tax base. How are the schools using their money? The schools in these rankings know how to use their money on curriculum, teacher effectiveness and productivity and parent involvement. If a district is struggling to make Annual Yearly Progress on the PSSA/PASA, then look at attendance at school, parent involvement and teacher effectiveness. If a child is not at school consistently, and a child’s grades are not improving or has dropped, two factors are the problem…Parents who are not involved and Teachers who can not be effective. Districts have to hold parents and teachers accountable. More training for teachers with more extensive mentoring programs and workshops for parents to explain how the school needs your help to have your child successful.
    Charters schools are not the answer. It is just putting a band aid on a problem where those schools also do not make Annual Yearly Progress as well.

  9. Why are you( parents) worrying about where the districts like TE, Lower Merion and Radnor,they are consistently in the top ten or twenty in the state? If you check the Pennsylvania Dept of Education, most of these districts made Annual Yearly progress on the PSSA”s or PASA. Parents and teachers are invested in their child’s success and these districts are using their resources and budgets appropriately. Whether you are a ranked a two or four does it really matter…What should matter is your child and how you as a parent are helping them be successful.
    The Department of Education, and the govenor should do is not to cut funding but take some time and fix the low performing districts in the state. The high performing districts should share their success with achievement, what worked with them on increasing parent involvement and increasing teacher effectiveness/ productivity through workshops or strategies they have used. More emphasis should be having an equal education to all children in PA wherever they live.

    1. Mary,

      Keith Knauss, a UCF Board Member conducted a study:

      He discovered that “only two factors are significant – Parental Education and Poverty and those two factors alone can explain the bulk of the differences in academic achievement.” These factors are beyond the control of the District and Board Directors.

      If the results of this study are accurate, which I have no reason to believe they are not, parents who create a culture of excellence will ensure that the high standards and values they live by and teach to their children will translate into academic success by the students in the TESD.

      Throwing money at a school district, any school district does not work, has never worked and will never work. It’s not about the money. It’s about the kind of life the students live and the expectations and standards their parents set for them and demand that they live by at home and at school.

      It’s very, very nice to have outstanding chemistry teachers at CHS like Derrick Wood and Dr. Jean Mihelcic.

      Mr. Wood was recently named as a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. He has a masters degree in Chem. Ed. from U. Penn and a M.Ed. from Cabrini. President Obama named 108 math. and science teachers as recipients, so pretty prestigious.

      Dr. Mihelcic was selected from a pool of over 300 applicants to participate in the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teaching Institute in July. She graduated magna cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College with honors in Chemistry.

      It stands to reason that teachers like these two want to teach in a school district with bright motivated well prepared kids. This is what it’s about. It’s that simple.

      We are lucky to have smart, well prepared, top notch teachers support our smart, well prepared top notch students.

  10. In my above post, I left out that Dr. Jean Mihelcic received her doctorate degree in chemistry from Yale.

    I found this information about Mr. Wood and Dr. Mihelcic in a A monthly newspaper — Sponsored by the Chester County Intermediate Unit and Chester County public schools. It’s a free publication called KIDS. I picked it up while waiting to talk to a manager at a local business. I’ve never seen it before. The article provoked intense curiosity within me so I picked up my copy of IN- an incommunity magazine. It used to be called Easttown-Tredyffrin but the publisher promised the school district he would change the name to Tredyffrin Easttown if they agreed to publish school news in his publication. I know this because they talked about it at a Pubilc Information Committee meeting when Scott Dorsey was Chair and before Kris Graham was Chair and they nixed it saying they would hold one if needed.

    I was hoping to find a picture of the two? an article about them and their achievements? On the front cover it says school district news is on page 26. I flipped to page 26 to see two big pictures and bigger write ups about Mark Cataldi – New Director of Assessment and Accountability and Andy Phillips New Principal at the TEMS. Congratulations again to Mark and Andy. There appointments have been written about and mentioned in many school publications. I turned the page to see Wendy Towle’s picture and write up and Patrick Gately’s picture and write up. Wendy is the new Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Patrick is the new Curriculum Supervisor of Language Arts. Congratulations again to Wendy and Patrick.

    I then directed my attention to my e-mail where I received my copy of t/e news yesterday. I was hoping to find information there on the accomplishments of the chemistry teachers but not a word was written on their outstanding accomplishments.

    I’d like to see a picture of Dr. Mihelcic and Mr. Wood, and I’d like to read a write up about them, especially Dr. Mihelcic and her experience this summer in Washington D.C. I can’t find anything on line so this is what the article says:

    Activities drew on science-related items within the Library’s (of Congress, how cool is that?) collections, as educators explored a variety of topics including the nature of science, the practices of scientists, and the connections among science, technology and society. Educators participated in and developed primary-source-based teaching strategies that they can take back to their school districts, apply in the classroom and share with colleagues. It says, teaching with primary sources is a powerful way to help students ask engaged, probing questions, develop critical thinking skills and construct knowledge. Do you think Dr. Mihelcic will bring back what she learned at the Library of Congress and incorporate it into her classroom teaching style? I hope so.

    Congratulations again to Mark, Andy, Wendy, Patrick and all the rest on your new appointments and positions.

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