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School report cards are up

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The District has managed to cram even more data onto their second annual school report cards, which you can now find here on the District’s website.

Called the "2009 Annual Report," these one-page report cards are dated September 2009, but have just been posted online in the last couple of weeks. It took me about that long to locate them – good luck finding your way there from the District home page. We haven’t heard how widely print copies have been circulated in schools or to parents. On the Web of course you can check out the results for any school.

Besides the familiar PSSA score breakdowns, there are some intriguing data points on here. For elementary and middle schools, we get to see how well report card grades were aligned with PSSA test scores. Consistently across schools the answer seems to be "In 2008 – badly; in 2009 – better." That measure does not appear on the high school report card though.

There’s the school’s grade on a "facility safety audit." – I’m looking at a school that went from an "F" last year to a "C." Or we can learn what percent of ELL students advanced at least one level in the course of the year – I see one school where barely one-third did. And then there are the breakfast participation rates, newly added to the report card this year. Also new this year is a column showing for each indicator where the school stands in relation to other schools.

Photo credit: School District of Philadelphia Office of Accountability
This image outlines the changes to the school report card this year. Click on it to see a bigger version.

The data listed is not self-explanatory. If you want to find out what "Student Assistance (CSAP) Rating" means, you can refer to the "parent guide" or the "complete guide" to the school annual reports.

Of course this is all about "accountability" as well as information, and it’s already been reported that most schools didn’t do very well at meeting their annual targets – only 75 schools hit 80 percent of the targets.

One has to wonder about the logic of some of those targets – and the expectation of steady progress toward perfection. Should A.B. Day, a school with a 97.2 percent teacher attendance rate in 2008, really have been under the gun to get its rate to 97.5 percent this year? (They did, and now they have to get to 97.9 next year.)

What’s your verdict on these report cards? Are they on target?