Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Academic Standing of PCS

Academic achievement is one of the most important student outcomes at Portersville Christian School, though you may be surprised to hear that it is not THE most important student outcome.  As a Christian school, our most important focus is making sure that our students understand the effect that their relationship with Christ has on their every day life, and how that will look when they take a Biblical worldview out to meet God's will for their life, regardless of what God calls them to do in their career. 

Academic achievement, however, does rank very high on the list of expected student outcomes.

A recent Cardus study indicated that the perception of Christian schools as high achieving academic institutions may not actually match with reality.  There is a perception that schools which are built around a Christian educational philosophy, and focused on a Biblical worldview outcome, are not as strong in academics as, say, a private, preparatory school which selects its students based on their potential for academic achievement.  But the fact of the matter is that Christian schools operated by conservative, Evangelical churches and church groups, show measurements of academic achievement that are only slightly behind the private, academic preparatory academies, and are right up there with the rest of the best.  And that includes PCS, which, by the means available to measure academic success, is at the top of the field in our area.

Generally, we measure our academic success using a variety of test scores, our own curriculum guides, the standard state curriculum, and how our students perform in the classroom.  We also take a look at students who have graduated from here recently, and how well they are doing in college.  That information comes to us in a variety of ways, including a parent who sent us a contribution to our annual fund based on her son's first semester college GPA. 

Test Scores

Our high school students take two standardized tests.  Sophomores and Juniors take the PSAT, while Seniors take the SAT, which is a standard college entrance exam.  The scores they receive on these tests allow us to measure their annual progress, to see if learning is taking place from one year to the next, as well as specific subject areas where improvements are needed.  The majority of our students score above the national and state average scores on these test, and the class averages are generally 12 to 15% higher than the local public schools in the counties immediately around us.  In addition to that, looking at our last two graduating classes, five students achieved an SAT score which placed them in the National Merit Scholarship competition, a number that is equal to or greater than the much larger public high schools in our area. 

Our elementary and middle school classes are tested for their annual yearly progress using the Terra Nova Test, developed by the McGraw Hill company.  The Terra Nova checks for learning of basic skills by grade level, and is administered to students in first through sixth grade, and in eighth grade.  We can use the Terra Nova to indicate specific areas of strength and weakness in our curriculum, and compare the expectations of learning outcomes with the curriculum objectives we are using.  We can see if there are objectives which need to be added into the curriculum, or adapted in a different way, based on the way students answered the questions.  The Percentile Rank in each subject area tells us how our students did compared to others who took the test at the same time in other schools.  A percentile rank of 75% means that the student did better than 75% of the other students on his grade level who took the test during the same spring semester.  Most of our elementary students perform in the top quartile (top 25%) in reading and math, with the class averages in those areas being in the top third. 

Curriculum Guides and the Standard State Curriculum

Most parents are probably not aware of the extent of the curriculum guides that we possess, which provide us with the basis for the objectives which we teach in every class, on every grade level.  The starting point for these are the state-mandated objectives.  Of course, at PCS we have added Biblical integration, and higher expectations for student outcomes which acellerates the curriculum and increases the chances for academic success.  A curriculum guide is basically a document which states what a student should learn, how they will learn it, and how to measure the outcome to determine that they did learn it.  All of our core standards exceed those of the state mandates.  The measurement of the student's progress in mastering the objectives is the grade they receive for the subject each nine weeks, semester and annually. 

With core standards set as they are, that means even students who are earning average grades are exceeding the state standards in that subject area.  Obviously, our desire is that each student set a goal of receiving the highest grades they are able to earn. 

Alumni of PCS

A less formal, but fairly accurate, measurement of whether or not our school is meeting or exceeding its academic goals is to take a look at our recent graduates, and see how they are doing as they further their education at the college level.  Even as this is being written, we are working on a more comprehensive way of gathering this information.  However, with students being able, for the most part, to attend any college they want to, and with PCS graduates generally being accepted to their top choice colleges, I'd say we are doing rather well.  We have students admitted to some of the most highly competetive academic programs in the area, including pre-med and pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh, nursing at Pitt and Carlow, mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University, and electrical engineering at Grove City College.  We have a number of students who have gone on to solid academic programs at schools with a reputation for solid, Christian value, like Liberty University, Geneva College and Moody Bible Institute.  We have alumni playing on athletic teams at Cedarville University, Grove City College, Geneva College and Lancaster Bible College. 

Students from here have, for the most part, done very well wherever they go.  I have heard, on several occasions, alumni of PCS telling their peers how they see fellow students struggle in a particular subject area at college, particularly science or math, but that they aren't having a problem because of both their prior preparation, and because when they went here, they had to study, and that works. 

Simple observation of our day to day teaching in the classroom will tell you that we are accomplishing a lot more than your average school is doing.  One of the drawbacks of moving students forward academically is that students who come to the school new, especially if they came from public school, must spend some time catching up.  We've worked with a couple of the other Christian schools in the area to assist with curriculum alignment for their students.  With some effort, most students who transfer in here wind up being successful in academics.