This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Preliminary results on this spring’s state standardized test, the PSSA, are good news for the District, Superintendent Ackerman told the School Reform Commission today. For the first time ever, more than half of District students scored proficient in both reading and math.
Proficiency rates districtwide have climbed to 57 percent in math and 51 percent in reading, the eighth consecutive year of growth. This year’s gains – four points in math and three points in reading – are consistent with the growth rate over the previous seven years.
There was some acceleration of the rate of improvement in low-performing Empowerment Schools. In both reading and math, gains were about two points higher those in District schools overall.
"This was the first full year that we had all the targeted resources in place for the Empowerment Schools," Ackerman said. Those 107 schools are receiving more than $30 million in additional supports including a social services liaison, parent ombudsman, "response teams" that regularly visit each school, increased nursing services, a full-time sub, and instructional specialists. On top of that extra spending, Empowerment Schools got a larger share of the teachers hired for class size reduction.
The Empowerment Schools now use a modified core curriculum and and a "Direct Instruction" model of remedial interventions including Corrective Reading and Corrective Math. "I know people don’t like it, but it’s proving that it’s working," Ackerman said.
"The fact that we have the biggest gains in the Empowerment Schools tells me that we now have to take some of the things we’ve done in the Empowerment Schools and replicate them in some of our traditional schools," she added.
Eleventh graders, for years the District’s lowest-scoring, showed the largest single-year increase ever. Proficiency rates climbed seven points to 45 percent in math and 38 percent in reading. Ackerman noted that this year high schools implemented common planning time and an extra period, "so students could take remedial classes, but not at the expense of elective classes."
The disappointing news in the presentation to the SRC from Michael Schlesinger of the School District’s accountability office, is that there was minimal progress in narrowing the District’s achievement gap. Black and Latino students still have proficiency rates 22 to 24 points lower than Whites.
In the only negative trend in the grade-by-grade results, 3rd grade reading proficiency rates dropped one point to 53 percent. Fifth grade math scores were flat. Proficiency rates were up in all other tested grades; the PSSA reading and math tests are given in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 11.