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New system to measure schools' performance goes public Sept. 30

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:00 p.m.

A new grading system for Pennsylvania's public schools debuts online Sept. 30, more than three years since educators began testing the system now considered a key tool in monitoring student achievement.

Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq on Wednesday offered a preview of the School Performance Profiles, which will rate schools on a 100-point scale.

“We wanted to put all the data in one spot instead of having people go to multiple sites,” Dumaresq said from Harrisburg. “The data is the same ... but the way we show it has evolved.”

Profiles will be available for traditional public schools, charter schools and career and technical centers with search and comparison features.

Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 182,000 members statewide, said he's thrilled the department implemented a system that incorporates multiple measuring sticks: attendance, participation in standardized testing, graduation rates, standardized test scores and year-to-year student progress. But he worries the rubric is still too heavily weighted on test scores. The profiles replace the standard known as AYP, or adequate yearly progress, which was based solely on math and reading scores.

“(Wednesday) was the first time I'd seen the site demo'd,” he said after the meeting. “We still don't have a full grasp on all the classroom tools and other links, but we're learning.”

The state will use the profiles as a baseline for teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Schools will get a preview of their 100-point scores beginning on Monday. Schools that score above 70 are considered to be satisfactory.

Quaker Valley School District spokeswoman Tina Vojtko said administrators there got a peek at the basics, double-checking data such as enrollment numbers, but they are wary of that all-important final score.

“It's just like taking a big test, there's that fear of the unknown,” she said.

Forty percent of the score comes from exam results and another 40 from how much progress students make year over year. Test scores come from the Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment, or PSSA, and high school Keystone tests in English, math and science.

Dumaresq cautioned that some Keystone data would be skewed because the tests are new and more challenging than the PSSAs they replaced.

“Let's be careful we don't punish ourselves for reaching higher and adding more rigor,” Dumaresq said.

Officials noted schools can get extra credit for advanced achievement on standardized tests. Scores are adjusted proportionally for schools that lack data for a given category, such as a graduation rate at an elementary school.

A school's score will comprise 15 percent of teacher evaluations starting this year and 15 percent of principal evaluations beginning in 2014-15.

The ratings don't account for funding cuts, which amount to $700 million since 2010-11, Keever said.

Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, will be among the last briefed before the grading system goes live.

“It's an improvement, but it's foreign to us right now,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed. Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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