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Waiver means no ratings for many Pa. schools this year

The state got federal permission not to grade all schools, in view of changes to the PSSA exam that resulted in a sharp drop in scores.

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

After steep statewide drops in test scores that resulted from overhauled PSSA exams, Pennsylvania has been granted a one-year break from giving all schools an annual performance grade.

Gov. Wolf and his education secretary, Pedro Rivera, said Tuesday that the U.S Department of Education approved a one-year waiver so that schools with only K-8 students do not have to be assigned School Performance Profile (SPP) scores. Schools serving high school grades, where students take Keystone exams, will still receive SPP scores.

Since 2013, each Pennsylvania public school has received an annual SPP score, an overall performance rating based on measures including standardized test results, attendance, and graduation rates.

“While it is critically important to hold our schools and educators accountable for student success, we must take care to do so with indicators that are fair and accurate,” said Rivera in a statement. “This year’s PSSA scores establish the new baseline from which we can most effectively measure student progress in future years.”

A NewsWorks analysis found an average 35-percentage-point drop in math and a 9-percentage-point drop in reading proficiency scores from 2014 to 2015. The state Department of Education has not yet released the full 2015 results.

The 2015 PSSA exams were the first geared to the more rigorous Pennsylvania Core Standards-aligned content, making any comparisons to prior years problematic. As expected, reading and math proficiency rates across school districts declined sharply. Many had worried that these results would factor into high-stakes decisions about educators and schools.

However, the waiver means that PSSA scores will not factor into principal and teacher assessments this year.

The waiver does not apply to high schools because there were no major changes in 2015 to the high school Keystone exams, which cover algebra, English, and biology.

According to PDE’s statement, Rivera noted that this break in using SPP is part of a broader discussion that surrounds potentially revising the state’s school grading system.

“With a new PSSA baseline in place, we can ensure the SPP is an accurate, useful tool that helps educators, administrators, community members, and leaders evaluate schools’ progress and performance for years to come.”

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