Low per student spending isn't reflected in test scores

Joyce F. Nowell Gannett reporter

It looks like the Greencastle-Antrim School District is getting a good bang for its buck when considering student achievement and what is spent to educate each child.

Greencastle-Antrim students demonstrated academic achievement and growth generally beyond their peers in 2019, according to data presented earlier this month to the school board by administrators.

Administrators said the academic-scoring data comes in contrast to per-student spending compared to other school districts in the state, area and county.

"When you consider the cost per student and compare our peer groups, and look at the achievement that is being made with spending less and less staff — that speaks volumes to the staff, the administration and the district,” Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent, said of the data presented on test scores and assessments by principals of the district’s four schools. “When you look at academic progress, keep in mind what we’re spending.”

Greencastle-Antrim spends $12,986 per year for each student, while other districts in Franklin, Adams and York counties average $15,936 per student annual spending. In Pennsylvania, the average is $17,645.

District officials have, for many years, lamented unfairly low levels of state funding.

Dr. Robert Crider, the school system’s chief educational officer, said the state has gone away from one number to assess districts, but instead offers student achievement and progress information.

Crider was pleased with the school system’s position among other Franklin County districts.

“For (English-language arts), Greencastle is outachieving the others in the county, and Chambersburg is growing a little bit faster than us,” he said. “For math, again Greencastle is above the group in achievement and gaining on Chambersburg’s growth a little bit.

“Keep in the back of your mind, we’re doing this with less.”

In a comparison among 10 peer districts of the same size and socio-economic factors, the school system also stacks up well, Crider said.

On average, all outspend Greencastle-Antrim, but all are also less proficient in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment standardized testing, and the local district outperforms all but two in the Keystone assessments.

Primary school assessments focus on benchmark levels. Principal Angie Singer noted reading and writing for 2018-19 at or above the benchmarks.

Standardized testing comes into play at the elementary level, where Principal Chad Stover pointed to comparison data.

“The numbers speak for themselves — 13.6% higher than the state average in (English-language arts), 17.9% higher in math and almost 20% higher in science,” he said. “That’s a testament to our students, our families and, especially, our teachers in the classroom.”

Middle school Principal Mark Herman said his students eclipsed state levels in English and math, but trailed by a point in science.

“We have been tracking that (science level) over the years, and we have been slowly closing that gap, but we are still slightly below the state average,” he said.

High school student test scores in literature, biology and algebra not only were higher than the state average for 2019, they were ahead of peer, county and area districts. And they trended well for achievement and growth over the past four years.

“They (2019) were our highest scores across the board,” Dr. Ed Rife, high school principal, said.

Crider noted student-achievement initiatives are ongoing in all four schools.

“Our role is to continue to lead, guide and support, and find ways to remove barriers and do what we can with less,” he said.