Pennsylvania releases public schools' report cards
October 14, 2016 12:00 AM
Haley Miller, left, reads to Lauren Smith from the book "I Love My Daddy" in the classroom at McIntyre Elementary in Ross. The school received a SPP score of 88.4.
Students in a class at Mt. Lebanon Senior High School, which received a SPP score of 92.1.
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Technically, the latest state report card scores for the majority of elementary and middle schools across Pennsylvania were lower than the ones in 2014, the most recent year the School Performance Profile data was collected for K-8 schools.
But don’t call it a “drop,” warned Matthew Stem, the state Department of Education’s deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education.
“We want to caution against comparing the K-8 scores with the scores that they would have last received in 2014 because they’re [based on] two different tests. So it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison,” he said.
Allegheny Intermediate Unit executive director Linda Hippert echoed those remarks: “Looking back to SPP scores two years ago is best described as irrelevant because we are looking at something new this year.”
PG graphic: School Performance Profile scores (Click image for larger version)
Made public Thursday, this year’s School Performance Profile includes for the first time the scores from the new Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests for grades K-8 that educators say are more rigorous than the old exam. And because the PSSA and other standardized tests, the Keystone exams for high school students, make up such a large part of the profile score, some districts said they expected a lower profile scores. (Only high schools were included in the profiles last year.)
Students in several Allegheny County school districts made some gains on the 2016 PSSA, and some scores were flat.
The profile scores, which grade individual schools on a scale of 100 — with the chance to earn seven extra points — are based mostly on standardized test scores, and to a lesser degree on graduation rates, participation in Advanced Placement courses and attendance.
Unlike the PSSAs, the end-of-course Keystone exams have not changed, and Mr. Stem said Keystone scores were up across the state this year. Districts with schools that have historically earned high marks on the profile likewise did well this year. Upper St. Clair High School was among the top, with 101.3 points.
Mr. Stem said the Department of Education doesn’t come up with a statewide mean or average profile score among the schools in the state’s 500 districts, more than 160 bricks-and-mortar charter schools and 14 cyber charter schools, saying the report cards are “designed to be a local snapshot at the school level.”
But to get a fuller picture, good old-fashioned communication between families and teachers about their child’s progress is essential, said Upper St. Clair district superintendent Patrick T. O’Toole.
“That’s still the most important variable. I don’t want to diminish the data, but I think you have to look at it with a critical eye,” he said.
Educators and politicians alike are doing just that. Gov. Tom Wolf and Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera have been seeking input for months on how to develop a more “holistic” School Performance Profile, Mr. Stem said. At a recent visit to Pittsburgh on his Schools That Teach tour, Mr. Wolf called making the SPP fair a “top priority.”
“You want to make it so that these are not high-stakes tests, that everything isn’t riding on changes from year to year, which could have nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom.”
But, he added, accountability is key. “I’m looking for that in education: really good, hard and fast accountability, but accountability that’s fair — fair to the taxpayers, fair to the teachers, fair to the students.”
City Charter High School in Downtown, which enrolls roughly 620 students — nearly 70 percent of them low-income — sent a press release out Thursday afternoon touting its School Performance Profile score of 89.8.
“This is our highest SPP score ever,” and the highest among high schools in the city of Pittsburgh, said CEO and principal Ron Sofo. “We don’t think we’re all that, but we do believe that we’re walking that talk with integrity, which is what charter schools were initially envisioned to be.”
Last week, the president of the Pittsburgh school board said she was “shocked” by the results of the district's profile showing nearly two-thirds of its schools scored below 60. Only two schools — Science and Technology Academy 6-12 and CAPA 6-12 — scored from 80 to 89. Beechwood K-5, Brookline K-8, Concord K-5 and Allderdice and Carrick high schools fell in the 70 to 79 range.
The district released the results at a board meeting Oct. 5.
Profile scores aren’t posted for a “handful” of schools across the state that have questioned their results. Mr. Stem said. “We’ve pulled those down and are working with schools individually” out of “an abundance of caution.”
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