This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Less than half of Philadelphia students in District schools read and do math proficiently, but the rates stayed essentially flat this year despite severe funding cutbacks.
Superintendent William Hite called the results good news.
Reading proficiency rates fell by 0.3 percentage points to 42 percent, while math dropped from 46.9 to 45.2 percent proficient, according to data released by the District. The state has yet to release statewide or school-by-school scores, but has sent results to districts.
"These numbers represent the fact that we have a very long way to go," Hite said in an interview. "But I’m quite frankly surprised we didn’t see a more significant decline considering how we started the year and went almost two months" with shortages of essential personnel like counselors and some teachers due to budget cuts.
"We started adding people back in November, and essentially had three months before [students] had to take assessments," he said.
He said that 55 of 168 schools with 3rd through 8th grades improved in math, and 48 improved in reading. "That speaks to the significant contribution of teachers, principals, staff and students. These represent a baseline for us and that’s how we’re bullding from here."
He also said that on the new Keystone exams given in high school, biology scores improved slightly, while Algebra I and literature scores declined slightly.
"No one is satisfied, but I also want to acknowledge the fact that if someone were to look at our district and predict scores based on how we started and what resources we started without, [they] would predict significant declines across the board."
Last year, PSSA scores went down a few points statewide and Philadelphia reflected that trend.
Philadelphia’s test scores showed steady gains for several years in the early and mid-aughts. But they started declining in 2012. That year, new test protocols were put in place after indications of adult cheating.
It was unclear why the District disclosed its results before the state’s official release, and Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller offered no insights. He said only that "the School Performance Profile will be released when the verification process is completed." He did not give a date.
Last year, the state started evaluating schools through a new School Performance Profile. Each school is given a score between 0 and 100, reflecting performance on multiple measures, including test scores.