Public school profile scores released for last time
Pennsylvania has released annual report cards known as School Performance Profiles for 2016-17.
It's the fifth and final time the rankings will be posted to a public database as Gov. Tom Wolf's administration ushers in a new measurement system that relies less heavily on test scores.
The public can review the last batch of performance profiles at paschoolperformance.org — where web users can click on a map or enter a district or school name to find ratings on a 100-point scale and school-related information, including student demographics, number of Advanced Placement courses, dropout rates and a tool to compare similar schools.
The state Department of Education is preparing to scrap the profiles as a public measurement tool and instead develop a system called the Future Ready PA Index, a switch that critics lament could make it difficult for parents and taxpayers to compare schools across Pennsylvania's 500 school districts.
‘Goal post' keeps moving
The School Performance Profile system published its first school building-level grades in 2013 under then-Gov. Tom Corbett.
Like the profile system, the Future Ready PA Index aims to be a one-stop shop for parents to find data and details pertaining to specific public traditional, charter and cyber charter schools. The Wolf administration calls its approach a “more holistic school evaluation tool.”
“Especially when it changes party, a new administration always wants to have their touch or their hands on something, to have their legacy, if you will,” said Timothy Eller, a spokesman for the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Harrisburg and a former education department spokesman under Corbett.
“It's disruptive because it always seems like the goal post is moving,” Eller continued. “Something's been going on a few years, and now we're changing it again. There's no consistency. That can become very frustrating not just for teachers and administrators, but for students, parents and taxpayers.”
The state's new public education report card, incorporated into its Every Student Succeeds Act plan awaiting federal approval, will display a dashboard of data for each school, including career readiness indicators, chronic absenteeism rates and qualitative measures. The index “addresses the issue of unequal weighting of content areas in the current (profiles),” the department says.
“While Pennsylvania is transitioning to a new school report card next year,” Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera said in a statement, “providing communities and parents with transparency, accountability and access to supports and resources remains our No. 1 priority.”
Critics, however, say the new index will make it harder to measure academic growth from one year to the next and does not allow for making apples-to-apples comparisons between schools.
‘Step backwards' for transparency
Unlike the profiles, which gave passing marks to schools reaching a score of 70 or above, the new index won't rank schools using a summative score or letter grade. The dashboard will allow districts to include data from locally selected reading and math tests that aren't taken in every school.
Jon Cetel, executive director of PennCAN, a school-choice advocacy group based in Harrisburg, called it a “step backwards in terms of transparency and accountability.”
“There is a national movement toward summative ratings for schools because they provide parents and taxpayers an easy way to learn how their local school is performing and a way to compare their school with the achievement levels of neighboring schools,” Cetel said. “Additionally, a summative rating holds every school accountable for the successes of their students and the effective use of taxpayer money.”
The accountability issue was among chief concerns raised by state Senate and House lawmakers displeased by Wolf's ESSA plan.
Of 17 states that submitted ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education last spring, 15 proposed using a summative rating. A department spokesperson declined to comment.
The Wolf administration “could have very easily kept” the profile system that churns out individual school grades while adding qualitative measures, argued Cetel. He said doing so could have provided families and taxpayers with “the best of both worlds — a single grade for each school that they could use to compare schools and track success from one year to another, and data illustrating a school's holistic educational approach.”
“Unfortunately, the creation of a Future Ready PA Index will likely cost the commonwealth millions of dollars to create and maintain,” continued Cetel, “on top of the resources spent just a few years ago to create the (profiles).”
The profiles had replaced the former Accountability Yearly Progress, or AYP, system in place under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. They cost the state at least $2.2 million to develop and another $850,000 a year to maintain.
A cost estimate for the Future Ready PA Index was not immediately available, nor was a state Department of Education spokesperson to discuss its rollout.
Unless lawmakers modify existing rules, officials still must maintain the profile formula — at least internally — to carry out state-mandated teacher evaluations. Legislation passed in 2012 linked the state's teacher evaluations to profile scores.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.