New school scores get incomplete grade upon Pa. release

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

After school officials questioned the accuracy of information, the state Department of Education went ahead Friday with releasing its new School Performance Profiles for more than 2,300 public schools but withheld scores for about 600 others.

The profiles include first-time academic scores -- based on a range of 0 to 100, plus up to 7 more points for extra credit -- which are the closest Pennsylvania has ever come to giving grades to schools.

The profiles for each school can be found at, although the portion of the site that enables ready comparisons has not been activated.

In a phone news conference, acting state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq said she considers a score of 70 as starting "to be the mark of moving toward success," but even schools in the 90s "may have an area that needs improvement."

If current estimates hold up when all of the academic scores are finalized, she said, 72 percent of all public school buildings will have cleared that benchmark, calling that "phenomenal."

The department plans to work with school officials to get the remaining numbers right, with the goal of releasing the rest of the scores in December.

"Stay tuned," Ms. Dumaresq said.

PG graphic: Academic Scores
(Click image for larger version)

The School Performance Profile system replaces the state's previous accountability system, in which schools had to make adequate yearly progress, known as AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Like most states, Pennsylvania got a waiver to change its system.

Ms. Dumaresq said she hopes users will find the new system "straight-forward" and "user-friendly."

The state spent $2.7 million over three years developing the system, which is expected to cost $838,000 a year to maintain.

Meanwhile, the state also is withholding for the time being the release of statewide results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in math and reading in grades 3-8, science in grades 4 and 8 and writing in grades 5 and 8 in 2012-13 as well as the new Keystone Exams in Algebra 1, literature and biology.

It is the Keystone Exams that stirred up the biggest fuss because of confusion over directions on how to indicate whether a test was being taken end of course. Part of the academic score is based on how much student achievement grew in a year. For the Keystones, only scores of students who took them as end-of-course tests count for growth.

The impact is largest in the high schools, but it also affects some schools with an eighth grade because many students take algebra in eighth grade.

In Allegheny County, only three high schools have academic scores released by the state: Northgate, 66.6; Quaker Valley, 93.2; and West Allegheny, 93.9.

Of the suburban districts, 62 high, junior or middle schools do not have School Performance Profile scores. In Pittsburgh Public Schools, more than half of the schools -- all K-8, 6-8 and 9-12 schools -- lack the academic scores.

West Allegheny and Northgate are the only Allegheny County districts to have academic scores for all of their schools.

Local school officials were surprised that suppressing the Keystone growth data would result in no score being released.

Quaker Valley Superintendent Joseph Clapper was among those taken by surprise. On Thursday, Quaker Valley sent out a news release announcing scores for all four of its schools -- all in the 80s and 90s -- but the state suppressed the middle school score.

West Mifflin Area Superintendent Daniel Castagna said, "The way it was explained was that withholding the Keystone scores will not hurt you. We thought it would just take that out of the equation. No one knew that meant we were going to be totally blocked."

In West Mifflin, withholding the academic scores for the middle school, which houses grades 4-8, and the high school, which is 9-12, means that most of the district's academic progress is still a mystery. Academic scores were released on the three K-3 elementary schools -- Clara Barton, Homeville and New Emerson -- where third grade was the only grade tested.

Janet O'Rourke, director of secondary education in the Bethel Park School District, said she also was surprised when the district's high school score was not made public, saying, "The information [from the state Department of Education] that I was able to review earlier in the week included the high school information, and I expected it to be released."

The educators questioned why the state Department of Education pushed through the Friday release when so much of the data was unavailable.

"This is a mess, an absolute mess," Mr. Castagna said.

Ms. Dumaresq said the profiles contain 4.6 million pieces of data and that holding all of the profiles for just the Keystone growth data "was probably not in our best interest."

Of those schools which do have scores in Allegheny county, scores range from 49.3 in Duquesne Elementary to 97.9 at Eisenhower Elementary in Upper St. Clair.

Mt. Lebanon is the only school district where all of the schools with scores have scores above 90. Three of its 10 schools do not have scores yet.

Of bricks-and-mortar charter schools in Allegheny County, the range was from 22.5 at Academy Charter School to 85.5 at the Urban League of Pittsburgh Charter School, 85.5.

Some cyber charter schools, including Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Schools, had their scores withheld, but the scores for two of the larger ones were 48.4 at Agora Cyber Charter School and 67.9 at Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School.

As a result of some of the data on the School Performance Profile, some Title 1 schools, which serve low-income students, have been named priority, focus or reward. They will make school improvement plans and receive technical assistance.

In Duquesne which was named a priority school for ranking among the lowest 5 percent of Title 1 schools in the state, Paul Rach, Duquesne's former acting superintendent and now chief recovery officer, said despite the low score, the growth data in the profile indicated that students are making some progress.


Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. Mary Niederberger: mniederberger or 412-263-1590.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?