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Pupils offered A's to take tests; Langley hoped incentive would boost performance

Thursday, April 03, 2003

By Carmen J. Lee, Post-Gazette Education Writer

Langley High School administrators got a little lesson in marketing yesterday and now will have to remove fliers that offered grade incentives to students taking standardized tests this week.

The fliers said ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders could "receive two A grades to replace two lower grades in all of your classes" if they showed up for the state and national tests on time and worked to the best of their ability on the exams.

Some of the fliers were printed on eye-catching melon and yellow paper and had been posted on walls throughout the Sheraden school.

But acting Principal Linda Baehr said the wording of the fliers probably didn't quite capture what was intended.

Students could receive bonus points that would be averaged into their grades rather than actual A's that replaced bad grades, she said.

About 500 Langley students will be taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment or the national Terra Nova or New Standard Reference exams this week.

As part of the incentive, students who work diligently on the tests will receive certificates at the end of the testing period that they can take around to each of their teachers to receive the bonus credit, Baehr said.

Still, after learning about the fliers and incentive yesterday, Cassandra Kemp, Pittsburgh Public Schools executive director for secondary and special schools, said the fliers were "null and void" and had to come down.

"There's no way we can say students can get an A and drop a lower grade," Kemp said.

When Kemp talked with Baehr, who is new to Langley this year, Baehr explained that only bonus points were being offered.

Kemp, however, said that it also had to be clear that the school would leave it up to each teacher to determine how much credit will be given and how it will be counted, such as whether it would have the weight of extra credit or quiz points.

"We can't intervene in terms of the grades given," she said.

Because city school officials, like others across the region, are trying to get students to take certain tests such as the PSSA more seriously, Kemp understood Langley administrators' intentions.

She added that at least one other city high school offers extra credit as part of its incentive to juniors taking the PSSA. Other schools have tried offers such as lottery prizes and pizza.

State Department of Education spokesman Keith Pierce said he hadn't heard of giving bonus points for participation on the PSSA before.

Without knowing details and Langley's rationale, he did not believe it would be fair to comment, but added "it would be worth looking into with the school."

Baehr said when she came to Langley, other staff members told her that bonus points for participating on standardized exams had been offered in previous years, so students understood the process. The difference this year was the incentive was promoted with fliers because students in three grades were being tested during the same week for the first time.

"The attendance rate has been much better than it usually is during testing," Baehr added.

Carmen Lee can be reached at clee@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1884.

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