State releases first performance scores for school districts

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In response to a Right to Know request, the state Department of Education has released school district academic performance scores that the governor had wanted to use to determine how schools spend state block grant money.

The School Performance Profile scores for 2012-13 show North Allegheny at the top in Allegheny County at 99.7 and tied for third in the state. Wilkinsburg is at the bottom of the county and the state with a score of 45.4.

The highest possible score is 107 points, counting 7 extra-credit points. The highest score in the state was 100 in Radnor Township in Delaware County.

In addition to North Allegheny, two other Allegheny County school districts made the top 10 in the state: Mt. Lebanon, which ranked sixth in the state at 98.6, and Upper St. Clair, which ranked eighth in the state at 98.1.

In addition to Wilkinsburg, three other districts were in the bottom 10 of the 499 districts on the state list: Duquesne, ranked 495th at 49; McKeesport Area, ranked 491st at 55.5; and Sto-Rox, ranked 490th at 56.6.

PG graphic: Allegheny County school district scores
(Click image for larger version)

The School Performance Profile academic score is based largely on state test scores — whether students scored proficient and whether their scores grew as much as expected — but also includes factors such as graduation rates and student attendance.

In October, the state began rolling out the first School Performance Profiles — including new academic scores — for each school building in a system that replaced the old measurement of making adequate yearly progress, known as AYP.

The change was a result of a waiver the state sought and received under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

With AYP, results were announced for both school districts and school buildings, but SPP results were released only for schools.

In his proposed 2014-15 education budget, Gov. Tom Corbett suggested dividing districts into four tiers by scores to determine how they could use a proposed $341 million in Ready to Learn block grants. Those with SPP scores below 60 could spend the money on only three initiatives focused on pre-kindergarten to third grade, while those with scores of 80 or above had 11 choices, ranging from pre-kindergarten to high school.

In the end, the Legislature approved $200 million in Ready to Learn block grants, including $100 million previously available in Accountability Block Grants. School districts must submit plans for approval and can spend the money in certain ways that are not linked to the SPP scores.

Asked for the district scores in May, Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said an an email: “Those are not being made public at this time until the verification process is finalized. The information was provided to each superintendent for verification.”

Asked for the scores in June, Mr. Eller said they would become public if they became part of the budget.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made a Right to Know request to have them released in any case. The state did not release them until Thursday, the last possible day to respond under state law. By the time they were released, it was well over a year since students took 2013 state tests used in the scores and the month before the state expects to release the 2014 state test results.

In Allegheny County, 13 of 43 districts scored 90 or higher. In addition to North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair, they are Moon Area, 95.9; Quaker Valley, 95.3; Montour, 94.9; South Fayette, 94.2; West Allegheny, 93.6; Hampton, 92.3; Plum, 92.1; Pine-Richland, 91.8; West Jefferson Hills, 91.1; and Chartiers Valley, 90.3.

It is difficult to know how much of a difference between the scores is significant when comparing school districts. Mr. Eller has said the state does not calculate standard error for the SPP overall score.

“The SPP is a snapshot to represent expected performance of all applicable students [the population], not a sample of those students,” he wrote in May.

Of its high ranking, North Allegheny Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said: “We’re really excited. We have a tradition of excellence in North Allegheny, and we’re continually striving to be better.”

Mr. Gualtieri noted the district’s efforts to use student data — including state test scores — to develop individual plans for students.

“That’s how we improve our overall test scores, by working individually with students to improve areas where there are deficits,” Mr. Gualtieri said.

 

Since 2003, North Allegheny, which has about 8,200 students, has had a fall “data retreat” in which teachers spend a day reviewing all of the data available on each student — including test scores, attendance and discipline — and developing individual learning plans for each struggling student, said assistant superintendent Robert Scherrer. The plans are reviewed throughout the year.

In Wilkinsburg, school board president Ed Donovan, who joined the board in December, said, “Our scores have not been great for years, so the fact that these scores would be really low or the lowest sadly doesn’t surprise me.”

He said the board now is unanimously committed to improvement, adding, “I know we’re trying really hard right now to do the right things, to be ready for a school year that’s different than previous year starts.”

Wilkinsburg, which expects 870 students this fall, is combining the middle and high schools and increasing course offerings this fall. It also has a new acting superintendent.

 


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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