Which Philly schools made the most progress?

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite praises principals who earned high scores in a district evaluation in this file photo from 2017. (WHYY staff)

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite praises principals who earned high scores in a district evaluation in this file photo from 2017. (WHYY staff)

The School District of Philadelphia released its latest batch of School Progress Reports (SPR) Tuesday, honoring those schools that made the biggest jumps in 2015-16.

During a ceremony at Olney Elementary School, a roster of local officials — including SRC chair Joyce Wilkerson, Mayor Jim Kenney, and Superintendent William Hite — saluted schools that finished at the top of their class in SPR.

High honors went to Loesche Elementary School, McCall Elementary School, Girard Academic Music Program, and Franklin Town Charter High School, each of whom had the best SPR for their respective grade bands.

Watson Comly School, Chester Arthur School, Academy for the Middle Years at Northwest, and Paul Robeson High School for Human Services earned the title of “most improved.”

District officials also gave a shout out to Olney Elementary School, which they said has shown consistent improvement in recent years.

Parents and community members can find the latest SPR scores for district and charter schools on the school district’s website.

Since its inception four years ago, SPR has been the catch-all metric for determining which Philly schools are on the right track and which could be slated for an academic overhaul. SPR tabulates student achievement on standardized tests, year-over-year growth on standardized tests, and various school climate measurements to produce an overall score.

Schools are then grouped into one of four tiers: intervene (the lowest tier), watch, reinforce, and model (the highest tier).

Late last year, the school district identified 11 low-performing schools that will undergo major changes, with some potentially receiving new teachers and administrators. The criteria for selecting those 11 schools was based in part on SPR scores.

The district, however, also created SPR as a way to highlight success stories, and Tuesday’s ceremony served that purpose.

Principals of the high-achieving school said they were excited about the honors and agreed that, when it comes to school improvement, there is no single solution.

“One of the things that I can honestly say has worked in my school is building those relationships within the building so that there’s a high level of accountability,” said Richard Gordon, principal at Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in West Philadelphia. 

Jodan Floyd, principal at Academy for the Middle Years at Northwest, attributed her school’s success to being creative and flexible. Instead of having subject-area silos, teachers stressed multi-disciplinary learning. Art teachers tackled writing prompts. Math teachers dabbled in science.

At Olney Elementary School, principal Michael Roth took a different tack. Rather than have homeroom teachers in grades 2-8 who taught every subject, he now has combined math-science teachers and literacy-social-studies teachers.

“Part of that process has really been teachers honing their own skils and their own expertise and becoming better at teaching the specific content,” said Roth.

All the principals said they use SPR as part of their leadership strategy.

“We live in a very data-rich envrionment. There’s so much to look at,” said Sherin Philip Kurian, principal at Loesche Elementary. “So having the SPR and having all of the data in one place really makes it very helpful.”

SPR has been criticized in the past because its formula has changed from year to year, which complicates long-term comparisons. In response to a NewsWorks analysis conducted last year, district officials acknowledged that the SPR is best understood as a snapshot of performance, not a tool for longitudinal analysis.

District spokesperson Kevin Geary said tweaks were made to the SPR this year, but they were relatively minor compared to years past.

“Few changes were made to the report between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 SPR, enabling apples-to-apples comparisons across those two years,” he wrote in an e-mail.

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