With less than two weeks before the state's scheduled announcement of school performance, at least 14 school districts in Allegheny County have found what they believe are errors in some of their test data.
While some local officials initially were told it was too late to correct the data, Allegheny Intermediate Unit executive director Linda Hippert said acting state education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq has assured her the districts will have an opportunity to fix it.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the problem will not delay the anticipated Sept. 30 release of school performance data.
He said affected schools will have the option to have the questionable data "suppressed" until corrections are made. In the meantime, a rating will be computed using available data, with a revised rating issued later.
He said a letter will be sent to school districts on Monday. He said the window for making changes will be determined when the department knows the number of buildings affected, a figure it is expected to know by the end of next week.
The data are particularly important because, for the first time, the data will be part of a new "school performance profile" that will provide a single numerical rating for each school district in the state.
The SPP replaces the previous system of measuring school performance, known as adequate yearly progress, known as AYP.
The problem centers on the Keystone Exams, which were given for the first time statewide in 2012-13 in literature, Algebra 1 and math. These replaced the 11th grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams.
On each Keystone exam, there was a bubble to indicate if it was an end-of-course exam.
If the student filled in the bubble, then the exam counted for a measure of student growth known as the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System or PVAAS.
If the student didn't fill in the bubble, then the test wasn't counted for value added purposes. Some students took the exams some time after they finished the relevant course.
In some districts, few, if any students, filled in the bubble. Hence, the districts are challenging the accuracy of their value-added information.
If available, the value-added information counts for up to 40 percent of the school's score on the SPP and will be used as a portion of teacher evaluations statewide for the first time this school year.
Ms. Hippert said some districts discovered the problem when the state released value-added results this week and some of the results didn't make sense compared to the numbers of students district officials knew took the Keystones.
Ms. Hippert listed the following districts as having concerns: Allegheny Valley, Avonworth, Carlynton, Fox Chapel Area, Highlands, Moon Area, Mt. Lebanon, Penn Hills, Pine-Richland, Shaler Area, South Fayette, Sto-Rox, West Mifflin Area and Woodland Hills.
"Obviously, we're very concerned. This performance profile affects our district and affects our academic reputation, so it's very concerning to us," said South Fayette superintendent Billie Rondinelli.
Woodland Hills superintendent Alan Johnson said most students didn't fill in the bubble.
"More than anything, there's so much confusion at the moment," he said.
Mr. Eller said districts were to verify that the correct information was marked in the test booklet, saying instructions were in the assessment coordinator manual given to districts prior to the exams.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.