Report: Lack of Rural School District Spending Impacts PSSA Results

| March 23, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – Doing more with less is a reality for local school districts, but one state organization sys the lack of adequate state funding for rural school district Pennsylvania is showing itself in lower scores on standardized tests.

State funding for public education impacts student achievement in rural Pennsylvania, according to a report released Monday by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children that looks at how spending levels in the state’s 260 rural school districts impacts student results on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs).

Only Forest County and Cranberry Area in Venango County in exploreClarion’s coverage area of Clarion, Forest, Jefferson, and Venango counties exceed “adequate” funding.  Forest County’s district spending is 22.5 percent more than the adequacy target and Cranberry Area is 13.7 percent more. The figures also likely represent the total amount of funding, including local taxes.  Clarion Area receives the smallest amount of state funding in the area.

The report, “Spending Impact on Student Achievement: A Rural Perspective,” shows when rural school districts spend below the amount needed to educate students – or their adequacy target – that under spending is a direct result of inadequate state support and negatively impacts student achievement.

Third grade ELA Proficiency is 75.5 percent at C-L in Clarion County, followed by Keystone at 69.1 percent, A-C Valley and Clarion Area at 66.7 percent, North Clarion at 61.9 percent, Union at 58 percent, and Redbank Valley at 54.4 percent.

Forest Area is at 56.6 percent and in Jefferson County Brockway Area is at 62.9 percent and Brookville Area is 63.1 percent. Venango County includes Cranberry Area at 62.6 percent, Franklin Area at 54.3 percent, Oil City Area at 55.3 percent, Titusville Area t 73.7 percent, and Valley Grove at 54.3 percent.

North Clarion

“For years the State has asked school districts to do more with less, and as you can see from the recent news release from PPC many of the schools in Clarion County have accomplished this task,” said North Clarion Superintendent Steve Young. “North Clarion’s success revolves around our teachers, school board, and community members.  Our teachers are willing to do whatever it takes to provide our students with a quality education.  If this means staying late or teaching a variety of classes each day, they do what is necessary to ensure the success of the students.”

“Our school board and community value education and have been extremely supportive to both teachers and administration.  Over the last five years, we have been awarded over $1.5 million dollars in competitive grants, and the North Clarion Foundation has also helped with providing our students with additional resources and opportunities.  No matter what the state funding levels are, North Clarion will continue to put the needs of the students first.


Clarion Area Superintendent Mike Stahlman said there are different reasons on why students score at certain levels on the PSSAs.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” said Stahlman.  “We’re going to continue to work hard to make our students successful.  We need to gear up. When it comes to SAT’s, Keystone exams, and college preparation, we’ve done an exceptional job.”

Clarion has also experience a larger number of transient students in the last couple of the years, and that could also be a reason for lower scores.

“The impact of transients is certainly part of it,” said Stahlman.  “We don’t do a lot of exit analysis on this, but the students that we have kept here for at least a couple of years prior to giving the test tend to do far better than someone who we have just received from somewhere else, and that indicates to me we’re doing a good job, but we’re playing catch-up, and it’s going to take a bit longer.”

Another reason for test scores may be that the test is a new one, including a different approach to math, as any family who helps a student with math homework will attest.

“Part of that is that we’ve had a change in the test,” said Stahlman. “We’ve had to gear up differently for the test. It was really interesting – we had some students that took both the Keystone Algebra Exam in the eighth grade and the eighth grade PSAA Math and did exceptionally well on the algebra exam at proficient or above, but were not proficient on the PSAA General Math.  That makes no sense to me.  It makes me think that test is either not a good test or it’s not measuring what’s being taught.  If our students were doing well on the algebra side of life, it would make sense that they would also do well in the general math.  Match is a subject that builds on itself – if you don’t have the basic skills, you can’t do well on the more advanced skills.  Math is very different now and the test is very much the new wave.”

“It would be interesting to separate the instructional from the operational costs to see what is being spent on educational instruction.  The more telling column, in my opinion, is the amount of state funding required to reach fair state share.  It is obvious that the things we at Clarion Area have been saying for a handful of years are clearly illustrated in this column.  Again, Clarion Area is the most underfunded school district in this area and one of the most underfunded in the state.  The state would have to increase our funding by 65.6% while others are already adequately funded.”

PPC Report highlights insufficient school funding

“What this report tells us is that insufficient school funding is not just an urban or suburban problem, it is a state problem,” said PPC President and CEO Joan Benson. “With budget negotiations underway, our hope is for policymakers to consider the widespread, significant impact that underfunding public education has on all students and their achievement. Today’s students are the key to our future economic viability.”

According to the report, 202 rural districts are not receiving their fair share of state funding, forcing them to either spend less or risk student achievement, which the report reveals is happening already, or increase local taxes.

The report found that more than a third of 3rd grade students attending rural school districts scored below proficient on the English Language Arts (ELA) PSSA, and two-thirds of students attending rural districts scored below proficient in the 8th grade Mathematics PSSA.

Grade 8 Math Proficiency varies widely among the “Explore” counties, with 45 percent at North Clarion and 15.1 percent at Valley Grove in Venango County. However, even the highest estimate means that 55 percent of the students are not proficient in math, according to state standards.

(See the included chart for a breakdown on individual school districts.)

Of the 158 rural districts that are spending below their adequacy target, 81 are doing so by 10 percent or more, and their students are performing even worse than the above rural average.

“When schools have adequate funding, they can support qualified teachers, up-to-date textbooks, small class sizes, and other supports that help students achieve,” she said. “Making sure districts have enough funding to educate students is a shared state-local responsibility but these results underscore the need for greater state investments because too many children in rural Pennsylvania are falling behind because the state isn’t providing their fair share of education funds.”

In rural school districts spending between 10 percent and 25 percent below the adequacy target, nearly 40 percent of students were not proficient on the 3rd grade English Language Arts and nearly 70 percent of students were not proficient in 8th grade Math PSSAs. Some districts did even worse:

In school districts spending between 25 percent to 50 percent below their adequacy target, 45 percent of 3rd grade students were not proficient as measured by the ELA PSSA, and 80 percent were not proficient in 8th grade math.

“State assessment scores are not the only measure of student achievement, but student performance in rural school districts should be of great concern to policymakers, parents, and communities,” Benso said. “We have made great strides over the last two years with basic education funding increases and the new fair funding formula, but the amount of resources provided to schools remains inadequate,” she said.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, of which PPC is a founding member, said the Governor’s proposed increase of $100 million for basic education funding is a strong investment in a difficult budget year, but that giving all students the resources they need to succeed will require significant and sustained funding increases over several years, run through the fair funding formula policymakers adopted last year based on the recommendations of the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC).

“Every child should have an equal opportunity to attend a local public school that has adequate resources to ensure that he or she can learn and meet state academic standards. Unfortunately, that is not the case for children living in rural communities, and this report is a wakeup call that we need to increase state funding for basic education if we want students to succeed,” she said.

The report, along with data for each of Pennsylvania’s 260 rural school districts, is available at:

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