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Pennsylvania’s new list of struggling schools looks beyond usual suspects

The state has changed how it determines which schools need help, looking beyond test scores. Last year, Philadelphia had 42 percent of the Pennsylvania schools that had that designation. This year, it is down to 21 percent.

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

Pennsylvania released a list of 289 struggling schools Thursday that will have to develop “improvement plans” with the direction of state advisers. The schools will share some portion of $40 million. State officials declined to say how they will divide the money.

Unlike in previous years, the state focused less on schools with low overall test scores and included schools where certain subgroups of students failed to meet academic benchmarks.

Those subgroups include economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, special education students, and “federally established race and ethnic populations,” according to the state.

The new designations change the calculus for how the state defines struggling schools, drawing scrutiny to some schools that would have previously flown under the radar.

Each identified school will work with a team of state officials to create improvement plans, though there’s no plan to radically intervene at schools that fail to improve.

In previous iterations of this federally mandated program, schools that didn’t improve faced options that could include firing staff, closing schools, or converting traditional public schools into charters.

But when Congress replaced the No Child Left Behind Act with a new law called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it gave states more flexibility.

Pennsylvania’s new approach doesn’t mention the same sort of sweeping changes, even for schools that stagnate or backslide.

Read the rest of this story at WHYY News