This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
High schools received their grades Wednesday as the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) released the School Performance Profile scores that it uses to rate schools, along with results on the Keystone Exams.
The state’s school accountability system provides a snapshot of student achievement and growth that takes into account numerous measures, with most of the weight going to standardized test scores.
Statewide, proficiency rates on the math and English Keystones remained flat from last year. But overall school ratings dipped across the state, said Matt Stem, deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education.
“The overall trend is slightly downward," he said. "There are a number of schools that improved their SPP scores year after year.” But a larger number had decreases, he said.
Only those schools with an 11th grade — the year students’ Keystone results are counted — received scores for the 2014-15 school year. Schools that only administered the PSSAs, which are given in elementary and middle grades, did not receive an SPP score.
In August, the U.S. Department of Education granted Pennsylvania a waiver, allowing PDE a one-year reprieve from assigning these schools performance grades after the PSSA results showed huge declines in proficiency.
The PSSA scores were released earlier this fall with the proviso that the large declines resulted from the rollout of the new, more rigorous, PA Core Standard-aligned tests. Education officials have repeatedly discouraged comparisons to prior PSSA years.
The Keystone Exams, however, have been aligned to the Common Core-type standards since 2012-13.
For the first time, this year, the state has elected to use the best scores from 11th-grade students who took the same Keystone tests in earlier grades. If a student took a Keystone exam more than once, only the highest score would be “banked” in the 11th-grade year, officials said.
“The score that you’ll see on the SPP are scores that reflect last year’s 2014-15 junior class,” said Stem. “It will be the highest score that is reflected in their junior year.”
In addition to test scores, according to the PDE, a school’s SPP score measures how a school performs in relation to college readiness, graduation, promotion, and attendance, among other indicators. But test scores carry the most weight.
Gov. Wolf and his education secretary, Pedro Rivera, have said they want to change that imbalance. In a statement Wednesday, Rivera reinforced the goal to reduce the influence of high-stakes standardized tests in rating schools’ performance.
“While SPP scores can be a useful tool in assessing school performance, the Department is engaged in conversations with multiple stakeholders to consider comprehensive measures in evaluating schools.”
On Wednesday, Stem, the deputy secretary, echoed that plan. “We’re looking at ways that we can make the SPP a more effective tool … looking at more holistic ways to measure student success.”
The School Performance Profile scores – and their component measures – for Philadelphia’s District and charter schools can be found below.
Greg Windle contributed reporting.