Erie students get an A-plus for academic growth in 2021-22

[] Erie students get an A-plus for academic growth in 2021-22

Erie students get an A-plus for academic growth in 2021-22

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Superintendent details school district resources for students

On Oct. 19, 2022, Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito discusses district resources detailed at an Oct. 18 "call-in" with at-risk students.

Ed Palattella, Erie Times-News

Erie School District students are gaining academic ground.

Students in grades four through eight generally were "off the chart" in academic growth in math, English/language arts and science in the 2021-22 school year, according to new data.

"What that means is that kids made more than a year's growth in one year. They actually exceeded the growth that could be shown on the chart," said Karin Ryan, the district's director of educational services.

The results are from the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System, which measures individual student growth from one academic year to the next. The latest data had not yet been posted for the public on the PVAAS website as of Monday.

Overall, Erie students not only exceeded the standards in most categories last school year, they were well above the benchmarks.

"We have not seen results like this previously," said assistant schools Superintendent Teresa Szumigala.

In math, Erie sixth-graders met the expected standard for academic growth.Students in fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades exceeded the standards.In English, Erie fourth-graders met the academic growth benchmark.Students in fifth through eighth grades surpassed standards.

Room to grow

Growth in science is measured in two grades. Erie fourth-graders were well below the one-year growth standard. Eighth-graders exceeded the standard.

Students take science for the first time in fourth grade. To determine students' growth in the subject, PVAAS combines students' math and reading scores from third to fourth grade, Ryan said.

"We're working on it," Ryan said. "The state has (told) us that if we really work hard on the reading and math growth, the science will come."

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Students' academic growth picked up in 2018-19, Szumigala said. Then the pandemic hit. In 2020-21, and Erie students' academic growth scores were well below state standards.

"We are pleased that with all of the challenges of the last couple years we're heading in the right direction coming off the pandemic," Szumigala said.

"Having our students back in front of us face-to-face again where we can really dive in and work with them has been huge," Ryan said.

How do PVAAS measurements help instruction?

The academic growth measurements allow schools to gauge the effectiveness of instruction for each child and provide extra help if needed, Ryan said.

"We're able to see if the child is falling behind, maintaining growth or exceeding growth," she said.

The district's longstanding financial troubles had taken a toll on student learning through the years, said schools Superintendent Brian Polito.

"It devastated our entire district," Polito said. "Pretty much every districtwide system was dismantled because we didn't have the funding to support it. We spent a lot of time over the last six or seven years rebuilding those districtwide systems to really support our building leaders and our teachers and help them better support our students. It's exciting to see this all come to fruition finally with some promising growth scores this year.

"It's taken a lot of work to get here," Polito said.

The Erie School District in recent years invested millions of dollars in increased state aid and COVID-19 relief funding to replace curriculum that had not been updated in decades and provide Chromebooks for students. The district also invested in after-school and summer academic programs as well as other materials and support to help students learn.

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How the community schools model helps

A key academic support system is United Way of Erie County's community schools strategy, which provides supplies, food, clothing, mental and physical health services and more for students at all 13 Erie middle schools and elementary schools.

"One of the foundations of community schools is removing the barriers that prevent students from being academically successful," said Mike Jaruszewicz, United Way's senior vice president of community impact. "A lot of students lack basic needs like boots, coats, dental care or eyeglasses. Those are just a few of the things that community schools and our dozens of community partners work to address to help students be successful.

"Couple that with what Erie public schools has done in instituting a very strong academic curriculum, and we're starting to see student academic growth," Jaruszewicz said.

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The academic growth scores do not mean that a majority of Erie students are proficient in math, English and science. In 2021 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, JoAnna Connell Elementary students led all other Erie elementary and middle schools in English and math proficiency with 36.5% of students proficient in English and 23.8% proficient in math. Grover Cleveland Elementary students, with 66.1% proficient, led other elementary and middle school students in science.

But as students grow academically, they are expected to become more proficient.

"A student may not be proficient now, but if he continues academic growth at this pace, a (fourth)-grader now may be proficient in sixth grade," Jaruszewicz said.

Contact Valerie Myers at