New Castle students surpassed state standards in reading and math, a newly released report shows.

The effort vaults the district into adequate yearly progress status, the best ranking under Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines.

“This is where we want to be,” Superintendent George J. Gabriel said yesterday.

Signed into law in 2002, the federal No Child Left Behind Act has changed the emphasis of and consequences resulting from standardized testing. School districts throughout the state, like their counterparts nationwide, are graded on student performance.

Initially, New Castle found itself in “warning” status in 2003. The district witnessed improvement in 2004 and the following year was classified as “making progress.”

“My message to the staff on opening day is going to be, ‘Learning doesn’t reach a plateau; learning doesn’t reach an endpoint.’

“We are constantly searching for ways to improve.”

Seven grades took part in last year’s testing. However, data relating to the third-, fifth, eighth- and 11th-graders were used in measuring the district’s progress.

The results can be dissected in various ways.

For example, 11th-grade math and reading scores show a decline from 2005 to 2006.

The juniors from 2005, who graduated last year, scored 55 percent in math and 61.7 percent in reading. Compare that to the 11th-graders in 2006, who scored 41 and 53 percent respectively.

However, in charting the progress of each class using fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade state tests, there is double-digit improvement from one year to the next.

“We want to keep raising the bar,” said Stan Magusiak, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

While the district obtained the state benchmarks, subgroups within the student population struggled. Most notably, black, economically disadvantaged and special needs students posted low scores.

With few exceptions, white students reached proficient and advanced levels in reading and math at a higher rate than blacks.

Gabriel said the data provided from the tests permits the district to identify and correct undesirable trends.

“Each building administrator will form and implement plans to address groups that are underperforming,” he said.

Federal dollars also are applied to students in need.

With that money, Magusiak said, “we run after-school programs. We also use that money to buy support programs for the students.”

Those efforts seem to be producing results. An intensive, scientifically based reading program is being credited for the exceptional showing of black third-grade students at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center.

Eighty-nine percent of the black students reached were either proficient or advanced in math. In reading, that number was 79 percent. The results were better than their white peers.

“This is very refreshing information for us,” Gabriel said. “There’s no reason we can’t build on these results.”

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