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School officials say state bungled release of new report card results

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 9:27 a.m.

School leaders say state Education officials botched the release of what should have been the department's crowning achievement, the latest piece of a new accountability system designed to replace No Child Left Behind.

Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq delayed the debut of a school performance website when more than 20 percent of the state's 3,000 schools complained that data were incorrect or incomplete and could make schools look bad.

The site of the School Performance Profile, initially set to appear Monday, went active on Friday afternoon with partial results. A dialogue box tells visitors that erroneous information will be updated as soon as possible.

“What good does that do, though?” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, who lobbied the state to postpone the site's release until all data could be added and verified.

“We're frustrated by the lack of communication, clarity and the timeframe we were given to approve the data they submitted on our behalf,” he said. “To knowingly release the new system with errors is a totally inappropriate way to represent our schools.”

Minutes after the site went live, Dumaresq said everything available online was correct, blaming the incomplete release on discrepancies in how educators submitted Keystone Exams statewide. Superintendents, including dozens in Western Pennsylvania, were allowed to ask the state to suppress data until they can be corrected.

“We felt holding the whole thing to wait for one (piece of data, the Keystone exams) is probably not in our best interest,” she said.

The system that supports the site is not flawed, she said, and eventually will give a reliable portrait of school performance.

“We'll have to see how that plays out,” said David Broderic, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

Broderic argued that the profiles rely too heavily on standardized testing, a combined 90 percent including base scores, growth over time and minority achievement.

At Franklin Regional, Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said numbers given to the district on Monday for approval are higher than those she saw online Friday.

“If the School Performance Profile is designed to make a quantitative statement about a school, it is imperative that the data are accurate,” said Joseph H. Clapper, Quaker Valley superintendent.

In development for more than three years, School Performance Profile features a number grade for every school — from 0 to 100, or up to 107 with extra credit. Districts do not receive scores as a whole.

Education Department spokesman Tim Eller reported on Monday that 626 schools asked to be excluded and 1,444 schools requested minor corrections. For schools with missing data or incomplete scores, he said, the state will issue new scores in January.

Officials based scores on the results of statewide Keystone and end-of-course exams, attendance, graduation rates and student growth from year to year as part of the School Performance Profile, which replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress goals outlined in No Child Left Behind.

Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, praised the state for its responsiveness but said many Allegheny County superintendents were still waiting for corrections they requested weeks ago. “I understand this is very complex and it takes time to pull all the data from these multiple sources and get it online, but that's why we should've delayed,” Hippert said. “Why push to get it out there? The public will see these scores and draw conclusions, despite the disclaimers.”

Leaders at Allegheny Valley, Clairton, Pine Richland, Charleroi Area, Armstrong, Penn-Trafford, Riverview and Highlands also criticized the rollout, though most concede the School Performance Profile will ultimately be better than the system it replaced.

“It is nice for parents,” said Michael Bjalobok, superintendent at Highlands, “but it isn't going to guide our instruction.”

Staff writers Daveen Rae Kurutz, Tawnya Panizzi, Tom Yerace, Pat Cloonan, Brad Pederson, Rachel Farkus, Christopher Buckley, Tory Parrish, Kate Wilcox and Megan Guza contributed to this report. 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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