This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
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Pennsylvania’s Gov. Wolf intends to steer the state away from school accountability measures that he says place too great an emphasis on standardized test scores.
Details of the new plan have not yet been released. Wolf says the state’s existing accountability tool — the School Performance Profile — doesn’t give parents a comprehensive view of school performance.
"Education is a full and holistic process. We’ve reduced it to a bunch of high-stakes tests that don’t seem to me to be tied to the specific, comprehensive skills that we want students to have," said Wolf in a recent interview in the governor’s Philadelphia office.
The School Performance Profile system was unveiled by former Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration in October 2013, replacing the Adequate Yearly Progress measuring stick created by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Both of these tools rely in large part on student performance on standardized tests. SPP was advanced by Corbett as an improvement over AYP in part because it considers a student’s improvement over time, not just raw scores.
Under the SPP system, every public school in Pennsylvania receives a score on a scale from 0 to 100, with room for additional "extra credit." In addition to student performance on state tests (which accounts for 90 percent of SPP), schools earn points based on attendance, graduation rates, and participation in Advanced Placement courses and PSAT exams.
A recent report by Research for Action found that schools that score well on the SPP don’t serve many poor students. Even when analyzing the growth measures intended to show students making progress, low scores were strongly correlated to student poverty. This was the case for science and writing in elementary grades, as well as all subjects in high school.
"[The SPP metric] doesn’t seem to me to give teachers the freedom they need to adapt an education system to the specific challenges they’re meeting in that classroom, that day, that year," said Wolf. "And it hasn’t necessarily gotten us to a point where we are turning out better students."
Under Corbett, school funding was, in part, tied to a school districts’ aggregate SPP score. The "Ready to Learn" block grant funding was divided up based on a need-based formula, but districts with lower scores were given the greatest restrictions for how to spend the money.
Wolf’s proposed budget, which promised $2 billion in new preK-12 spending over four years, would do away with block grants — channeling all funding through the basic education subsidy.
Wolf, who campaigned for office touting his experience running his family cabinet-making business, said he is actively working to revamp the accountability system by seeking input from teachers.