Days after election, Pa. releases standardized test score data

 (<a href=Photo via ShutterStock) " title="shutterstock_200191580" width="640" height="360"/>

(Photo via ShutterStock)

The Pennsylvania Department of Education released a trove of academic data Thursday -– more than a month later in the year than usual.

For the second year in a row, the state downplayed year-to-year trends in standardized test score results, instead trumpeting its School Performance Profile – an aggregate measure that takes into account holistic factors including graduation rates and student progress.

In 2013-14, 72 percent of the state’s public schools earned a 70 or higher on the SPP scale. The Department of Education considers 70 the benchmark of proficiency.

Compared with last year’s metrics, the percentage of schools with a SPP score 70 or higher has held steady at 72 percent.

“These results show that, compared to 2012-13, the majority of our public schools are performing well, even though the state has recently revised its academic standards and is transitioning to more rigorous assessments,” said Carolyn Dumaresq, the state’s acting education secretary in an official release.

Compared with last year, the percentage of schools earning below 60 declined by about 1 percent.

Through October, critics of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration decried the fact that test scores hadn’t yet been released -– accusing state officials of purposely withholding the results until after the election.

The department specifically seemed to challenge that charge in its release, writing:

“Over the past several weeks, the department has provided schools with several opportunities to review and verify the data used in calculating the School Performance Profile scores to ensure accuracy.

Due to this year’s profile being the first in which student growth data for individual teachers will be used in the new educator evaluation system, the department provided additional time for schools to verify and correct their information.

With nearly 120,000 teachers across the commonwealth being affected by the results of this year’s profile, it is imperative to ensure the information in the profile is complete and accurate.”

Timing of scores release questioned

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, minority chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was one of the legislators who had cried foul on the delayed release of the scores.

“Last week, we were told that the department needed additional time – until ‘mid-November’ – to ensure the information’s accuracy,” said Dinniman, D-Chester. “Now, suddenly, 24 to 48 hours after the election, we are to assume all the kinks were ironed out? That is quite a coincidence.”

Dinniman feels teachers and principals are at a disadvantage in trying to use these results two months into the school year. “After all, this information has little value if we are not going to use it to help identify the ways our students learn and improve the ways our teachers reach them,” he said.

By not releasing raw state test score data in a readily comparable format, the deparment has made it difficult to judge whether a greater share of the state’s students are proficient in tested subject matter.

That’s a vast departure from past years when state scores were annually posted prominently on the department website.

Department spokesman Tim Eller says the state simply isn’t interested in looking at test score results in isolation any longer, preferring the more comprehensive School Performance Profile.

He added that the exams have been realigned to the state’s new academic standards over the past few years, which could put some districts at a disadvantage if they weren’t as swift to update their curriculum.

The federal government requires states to report statewide standardized test score results, but these reports aren’t due until January.

A comparison of statewide scores starting in 2011 showed an overall downward trend, but taxpayers will have to wait another few months to find out if that slide has continued.

“That information will not be available until the federal reports are completed,” Eller wrote in an email.

Scores up in 40 percent of Philly district schools

In Philadelphia, 40 percent of district schools increased their SPP scores, and 60 percent of schools had decreases — some of only a single point or less.

Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, the percentage of district schools scoring above 70 on the SPP metric remained steady at about 15 percent.

With a 90.8, Central High School received the district’s highest SPP score. Masterman and Carver also scored in the 90s.

The median score for the Philadelphia school district was 56.8.

Jura Chung in the district’s office of strategic analytics said the district will release its own accountability report for the 2013-14 year in February or March. The delay, she said, is so the district can include up-to-date graduation and college matriculation rate data.

Chung also mentioned that she’s seen reports that have shown statewide test scores declines, but couldn’t provide specifics.

A district spokesman said it was too early to say whether the district’s lack of school resources contributed to the test score results.

Below is a breakdown of the district schools with the biggest increases and decreases according to the state’s School Performance Profile metric:

10 schools with largest increases (as measured in SPP points)

Locke Alain Sch +12.9Ludlow James R Sch +12.8Sheridan Sch +11.8Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush +11.3Stearne Allen M Sch +10.8Girls HS +10.8Bache-Martin Sch +10.7Richmond Sch +10.4Carnell Laura H Sch +10.1Cayuga School +9.8

10 schools with largest decreases (as measured in SPP points)Overbrook Elementary School -19.8Fox Chase Sch -19.5Morris Robert Sch -19.0Leeds Morris E MS -18.1Penn Treaty Sch -17.8Wagner Gen Louis MS -14.8McKinley William Sch -14.2Arthur Chester A Sch -13.6Gideon Edward Sch -13.2

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.