This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education released a trove of academic data Thursday -– more than a month later in the year than usual.
For the second year in a row, the state downplayed year-to-year trends in standardized test score results, instead trumpeting its School Performance Profile – an aggregate measure that takes into account holistic factors including graduation rates and student progress.
In 2013-14, 72 percent of the state’s public schools earned a 70 or higher on the SPP scale. The Department of Education considers 70 the benchmark of proficiency.
Compared with last year’s metrics, the percentage of schools with a SPP score 70 or higher has held steady at 72 percent.
"These results show that, compared to 2012-13, the majority of our public schools are performing well, even though the state has recently revised its academic standards and is transitioning to more rigorous assessments," said Carolyn Dumaresq, the state’s acting education secretary, in an official release.
Compared with last year, the percentage of schools earning below 60 declined by about 1 percent.
Through October, critics of Gov. Corbett’s administration decried the fact that test scores hadn’t yet been released -– accusing state officials of purposely withholding the results until after the election.
The department specifically seemed to challenge that charge in its release, writing:
"Over the past several weeks, the department has provided schools with several opportunities to review and verify the data used in calculating the School Performance Profile scores to ensure accuracy.
"Due to this year’s profile being the first in which student growth data for individual teachers will be used in the new educator evaluation system, the department provided additional time for schools to verify and correct their information.
"With nearly 120,000 teachers across the commonwealth being affected by the results of this year’s profile, it is imperative to ensure the information in the profile is complete and accurate."
Timing of scores’ release questioned
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, minority chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was one of the legislators who had cried foul on the delayed release of the scores.
"Last week, we were told that the department needed additional time – until ‘mid-November’ – to ensure the information’s accuracy," said Dinniman, D-Chester. "Now, suddenly, 24 to 48 hours after the election, we are to assume all the kinks were ironed out? That is quite a coincidence."
Dinniman feels teachers and principals are at a disadvantage in trying to use these results two months into the school year. "After all, this information has little value if we are not going to use it to help identify the ways our students learn and improve the ways our teachers reach them," he said.
By not releasing raw state test score data in a readily comparable format, the department has made it difficult to judge whether a greater share of the state’s students are proficient in tested subject matter.