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State unveils school rating system, now using performance profiles

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

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has unveiled a new School Performance Profile to rate schools, replacing the system used under No Child Left Behind.

No longer are schools designated for makeovers that could include closure or charter conversion, as they were in the NCLB era. But the new system, which gives schools scores from 1 to 100 based on a combination of indicators, continues to label schools based on their performance level.

Philadelphia schools account for more than half those flagged in 2013 as among the lowest-performing 5 percent – so-called “priority” schools. However, 13 of the 47 District-run schools so designated have since closed, and three others changed their status to become either Renaissance charters or convert to schools with entirely different grade levels. Nine of the “priority” schools were charters, and one of those has closed.

The “priority” schools will not get very much help from the state, however. Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said the state’s main intervention is to devote about $800,000 to hire several “academic recovery liaisons” to travel to struggling schools to assess their weaknesses and suggest strategies for improvement.

The District also had some high-performing schools. Dumaresq said that she felt any school achieving a score of 70 or above on the 1-100 scale was “moving in the right direction.” In Philadelphia, 24 District-run schools and 28 charter schools reached that benchmark.

The average poverty rate in Philadelphia’s high-scoring schools in the new system is 20 points lower than the rate for the District as a whole.

The percentage of “economically disadvantaged” students in Philadelphia is 85 percent; the median poverty rate for the schools with scores of 70 or above is 65 percent for District schools and 75 percent for charters.

However, some of the schools with good scores did have high poverty rates, including Conwell Middle School and these elementary schools: Hackett, Dobson, Overbrook, and Fell. Among the high-poverty charters with high scores are Mastery-Mann, Young Scholars, Folk Arts Cultural Treasures (FACTS), Russell Byers, KIPP West Philadelphia, Pan American, and West Oak Lane elementary schools and Preparatory Charter High School.

The state website, paschoolperformance.org, went live despite a reporting glitch that resulted in a lack of final information for more than 600 schools statewide, including nearly all the high schools and a handful of other District and charter schools in Philadelphia. These schools will not have scores until December.

The website also includes online resources for teachers, including curriculum maps and strategies for meeting the new Common Core academic standards.

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