This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Kicking off a celebration of the 110 schools that met their federally-mandated performance targets in 2011, Philadelphia schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman gave an emotional speech and received a rousing ovation from principals assembled on Thursday at Lincoln High School for the District’s annual leadership convocation.
At the gathering, it was announced that that 110 of 258 schools, or 42 percent, met all of their 2011 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) performance targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The number is fewer than last year, but the test-score proficiency targets have been significantly increased.
Before the schools were announced, Ackerman took the stage to the song "Is It A Crime" by the singer Sade, drawing laughs from the audience. She then used the song as the theme of her address.
Listen to Dr. Ackerman’s complete speech from the 2011 Superintendent’s Leadership Conference.
"Is it a crime to focus on students with the highest needs?" she asked. "Is it a crime to believe that all the District’s resources should be allocated equitably, including contracts?"
Ackerman also seemed to take an indirect swipe at Mayor Nutter, who has been conspicuously silent when asked whether she should stay as superintendent. In one of Ackerman’s refrains, she asked: "Is it a crime to stand for children rather than stooping down into the political sandbox for a politician’s campaign victory?"
After the event, Ackerman provided reporters with some explanation of her remarks, but did not specify the politicians to whom she was referring.
"I’ve been criticized for not being a politician," Ackerman said. "I am unapologetic about [not] making deals that hurt our children."
She also said she thinks she "deserves to be superintendent," but said the decision is not hers alone.
"If I leave tomorrow, I know I left thousands of young people better off than I found them," she said.
Although speculation continues that Ackerman has been engaged in negotiations to end her tenure, she declined to say whether she believes she is entitled to a buyout package.
During her speech to the District’s principals, Ackerman cited an "epiphany" that recently led her to conclude that she is indeed "guilty" of "putting children, not politics, first," and of "using the District’s resources to level the playing field."
"Sentence me, I dare you," Ackerman said, referencing another popular R&B song.
As she departed the stage, the embattled superintendent received a rousing ovation and fought back tears.
Later, she said the support shown by the District’s principals moved her deeply.
"There’s nothing to me more satisfying or gratifying than to be recognized by your peers," said Ackerman. "It doesn’t matter what other people outside of this arena think about me."
Associate Superintendent of Schools Penny Nixon followed Ackerman’s speech by welcoming the principals of schools who met all of their AYP targets to the auditorium stage.
The number of schools districtwide meeting their targets declined precipitously from 2010, when 158 of the District’s 267 schools, or 59 percent, met all their targets.The drop is likely largely because the bar was lifted this year – the percentages of students required to score proficient or advanced on state standardized tests rose this year, from 56 percent to 67 percent in math and 63 percent to 72 percent in reading.
Two of the District’s six initial Promise Academies, or internal "turnaround" schools, met all their 2011 targets: Dunbar Elementary and Potter-Thomas Elementary.
Neither school ever made AYP before; both finished 2010 in their eighth year of "Corrective Action II" status. At Dunbar last year, for example, only 24.5 percent of students scored proficient in reading and only 33.3 percent did so in math. At Potter-Thomas, the numbers were 29.6 percent in reading and 33.3 percent in math.
Schools with historically low performance can also meet their AYP targets for showing significant growth, even if they don’t hit the absolute targets.
The schools that made AYP included 81 elementary schools, 12 middle schools, and 17 high schools. Districtwide, math scores went up 2.7 percentage points over 2010 and reading scores increased 2.3 percentage points.
District officials also said they have filed appeals with the state for 15 schools, meaning that the total number of schools meeting their targets could rise in the coming weeks.
During the celebration, it was also announced that 10 schools had graduated from their status as Empowerment Schools because of improvement in their test scores and in general on the District’s school performance index. They are: Arthur, Cassidy, Cramp, Ellwood, FitzPatrick, Muñoz-Marín, Wister, and Webster elementaries; Roosevelt Middle School; and Mastbaum High School.
three one neighborhood high school met all of its targets: Kensington CAPA , Lamberton, and George Washington.
Other AYP targets for schools including test participation rates and academic indicators such as graduation and attendance rates are also factored into AYP. In addition to setting schoolwide goals, the law also requires subgroups of students from different ethnic and other categories, such as English language learners, to meet the targets.
Thursday’s announcement comes on the heels of a statewide probe into possible cheating on state standardized tests. Earlier this week, District officials announced that they had conducted an internal review of the 2009 tests results of 28 schools flagged in a statistical analysis commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for anomalies such as suspicious erasure patterns or huge fluctuations in student proficiency rates.
The District deemed that 13 of its schools warranted further inquiry.
Ackerman spoke on Thursday for the first time about the cheating investigations.
"Really, the report was about erasure marks," said Ackerman. "We’re not talking about cheating parties or wholesale cheating in a school or in a classroom."
She emphasized that she believed in the integrity of the District’s teachers.
Similar statistical analyses of 2010 and 2011 PSSA results are expected in September.
Hear more about Thursday’s AYP announcement in Benjamin Herold’s report for WHYY News.