ShareThis Page

Public school profile scores released for last time

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, 1:06 p.m.
West Mifflin Area School District teachers Tricia Hopchak, Cara Cherevka, Melissa Gombos and Todd Welsh review student test scores with consultant Annette Patton (seated right)  while preparing individualized lesson plans for students in this file photo. In 2017-18, Pennsylvania is scrapping its publicly released School Performance Profiles and instead shifting toward a measurement system called PA Future Ready Index, which relies less on test scores.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
West Mifflin Area School District teachers Tricia Hopchak, Cara Cherevka, Melissa Gombos and Todd Welsh review student test scores with consultant Annette Patton (seated right) while preparing individualized lesson plans for students in this file photo. In 2017-18, Pennsylvania is scrapping its publicly released School Performance Profiles and instead shifting toward a measurement system called PA Future Ready Index, which relies less on test scores.

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, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.