Pennsylvania schools debuting new evaluation system

For the first time, schools across Pennsylvania will not be judged with the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards, but with a new system based on a 0-100 scale.

Starting Oct. 4, all public schools in the state were to receive a rating based on a number of different collections of data to rate the schools with numbers, as opposed to the AYP statuses mandated by last decade’s No Child Left Behind.

“It’s going to take a while for us to get used to how it’s working,” Spring-Ford Area Superintendent David Goodin said at a school board meeting Aug. 26. “The state is telling us each building in Spring-Ford is getting a numeric rating and we’ll be able to log in and see that. The benefit is that all 500 school districts are going to recieve this grading for the district and the schools in the district.”

The state’s request for an exemption was approved late in the summer and an evaluation based on a variety of tests, attendance rates, graduation rates, proficiency and other factors reported weekly will factor into a score posted online for anyone to view.

According to a press release from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the change was aimed to “improve Pennsylvania education in three areas: making sure all our students are ready for careers or college; developing recognition and accountability standards by the state for all public schools; improving and supporting effective teachers and principals in all our classrooms.”

Goodin called it an “apples to apples” evaluation of all schools.

“AYP in the past has been driven primarily by your PSSA scores, but the new accountability rating system is going to take a variety of factors (into account) when assigning a rating to the schools,” Goodin told the Spring-Ford board.

The evaluation for each building is called the “School Performance Profile,” according to information from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and it will grade schools on a 0-100 scale.

“For me, 70 starts to be the mark of moving toward success,” Carolyn C. Dumaresq, the acting secretary of the state Department of Education, said in a conference call with media Friday afternoon.

Although 70 seems to be a benchmark for her the state, judging by score groupings, Dumaresq said even a school in the 90s could show “areas that need improvement.”

“The school Performance Profile is a comprehensive, straight-forward, user-friendly system that provides parents, taxpayers and educators with information about the quality of all Pennsylvania public schools,” said Timothy Eller, press secretary for the state’s department of education. “The profile doesn’t only rely on the percent of students who are proficient or advanced on the state assessments, like AYP did, it also considers other measures of student academic achievement.”

Taken into account for that is a combination of state assessments such as the PSSAs, Keystones and the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS), which consists of a statistical analysis of growth and achievement markers within the schools. Additionally, graduation rates, promotion rates through the grades, attendance and how much achievement gaps between proficient and below-proficient students can be closed will factor in.

“The School Performance Profile is a more robust measure of how public schools are doing academically,” Eller said.

Dumaresq cautioned Friday that some scores may appear to be down because Keystone exams “are much more rigourous, much more difficult” than tests used in previous years.

“As we shift to these more rigourous exams and as we’ve raised the bar for graduation, schools are adjusting their curriculum,” Dumaresq said. “You are going to see some fluctuation.”

Title I schools, which are identified by the state as those which are struggling or have a “high percentage of low income students,” according to a release from PDE, will still receive federal designations.

Instead, they will receive federal designations of “priority,” “focus,” or “reward.”

“Priority” and “focus” schools are essentially tagged as continuing to underperform and will be eligible for intervention programs funded by the state while “reward” schools will be recognized for advanced progress by the department of education’s measure.

Schools designated as Title I will focus on four areas, specifically, for improvement, according to the state department of education.

The first is student participation rates in the state assessment tests known as the PSSAs and Keystones, the latter of which was rolled out during the last school year.

The second is graduation rates and/or attendance rates and promotion numbers through the grades.

“Closing the achievement gap for all students” stands as the third focus, which means upping numbers of students who were judged below proficient on state assessments. The target would be to close that gap by 50 percent over six years.

Lastly, Title I schools will focus on closing the achievement gap for “historically under-performing students” which consist of those who are “students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged and English language learners.”

Title I schools will receive federal designations and may have priority access to intervention and support programs over the non-Title I schools.

“Turnaround principles” will be applies to Title I schools which receive designations requiring “intervention.”

Among those princpiles is a drive to “provide strong leadership” through reviewing principal performance and “either replacing the principal if such a change is necessary” or “demonstrating to the state education agency that the current principal has a track record of improving achievement,” according to the state’s Department of Education.

Another principle aims to ensure effectiveness in teachers through a review of the staff’s quality and “retain only those who are determined to be effective and have the ability to be successful in the turnaround effort, preventing ineffective teachers from transferring to these schools.”

Within the new evaluation system is a specific system to implement new teacher, principal and education support personnel evaluations.

Other principles for schools deemed in need of intervention include a redesign of the school day for better “learning and teacher collaboration,” utilizing data-informed instruction and addressing “other non-academic factors that impact student achievement” such as safety and disciplinary issues.”

According to the department of education, “truly effective turnaround requires making controversial decisions that up-end the status quo.”

The new evaluation system and its tied-in intervention system will also require the help of intermediate units and “regionally-assigned” academic recovery liaisons from the department of education.

Because a lot of data is required in regular intervals, the question remains of how school district swill now regularly report the necessary data.

“The reporting that we’re having to do to the state has grown exponentially,” said Goodin in August. “The addition of this component I believe will entail eventually having to add somebody who does nothing but data for the district. We are an extremely large district and when you have 8,000 kids, that’s a lot of student data.”

For 2013-14, the first year of both the school and teacher evaluations, Goodin said the reporting will be done in-house, but he hopes to build space into the budget to have a data person in the future.

In the Boyertown Area School District, Superintendent Richard Faidley said there is already an administrative position called the supervisor of student achievement and data who will compile what is necessary.

Additionally, Superintendent Michael Christian, of the Owen J. Roberts School District, said administration has taken part in “professional development opportunities offered by PDE and (the Chester County Intermediate Unit) since last school year as the new evaluation system continued to evolve.”

Christian said he provided the necessary information to faculty for the reporting “as this new process is implemented state-wide.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) agrees with the move away from AYP measures but believes there are some kinks to work out.

“The new School Performance Profile does look at multiple measures when evaluating schools, which most district welcome, as opposed to the more test-centered AYP,” said Steve Robinson, the director of publications and public relations for the PSBA. “However, many districts have complained to the state department of education about data issues, which has resulted in the delayed release of the school performance profile. We encourage PDE to address all concerns thoroughly.”

The release of school scores was delayed from Sept. 30 to Oct. 5.

According to Robinson, the new evaluation system change does not address other issues regarding school performance.

“Beyond the issue of the School Performance Profile is the fact that school district success is so dependent on school funding,” Robinson said. “That means schools need an adequate, equitable and predictable funding stream.”

With the roll-out of the first scores Friday, Dumaresq said some schools’ scores are being “masked” due to errors in the data collected from the tests.

Phoenixville Area High School, Owen J. Roberts High School, Renaissance Academy and Perkiomen Valley High School all didn’t have scores available Friday. Many Chester County High Schools did not have scores available.

By masking the scores, Dumaresq said she’s giving schools and administrators time to produce the correct information in their scores.

Perkiomen Valley’s manager of school and community engagement, Jessica Lester, said the district was aware their growth rate would be hidden, but not aware that “academic performance data” would be suppressed.”

“We are working with the state to address this issue,” she told The 21st Century Media via email Sunday.

Dumaresq said scores for all the schools should be posted by the new year, probably some time in December.

Instead of waiting for all schools to have available scores, she said she “thought it was important that we put it out. Here’s the data, here’s how we collect it.”

“The report is useful, but the results for Pottsgrove are not a surprise to us and they do not tell the full story,” said Pottsgrove School District Superintendent Shellie Feola via a press release Friday. “While we understand we have room for growth, we are proud of our accomplishments and the opportunities we offer our students.”

Via a press release, Perkiomen Valley Superintendent Clifford Rogers said the scores he’s seen for his schools “reflect the fact that everyone in our district — faculty, staff, students and parents — values student achievement and works hard to ensure that every child is improving.

“We find this data useful and will continue to analyze it further to guide instructional practices, while recognizing at the same time that it does not tell us the whole story.”

There is some belief the new rating system may be more effective in comparing schools and adjusting instruction.

“It helps us identify where particular weaknesses are,” Dumaresq said.

“AYP in the past has been driven primarily by your PSSA scores but the new accountability rating system is going to take a variety of factors (into account) when assigning a rating to the schools,” Goodin said.

“I believe that the new system is an improvement over the old AYP determination,” Faidley said. “The School Performance Profile utilizes PSSA scores as well as PVAAS data and other factors in determining the overall school profile,”

“Our focus will be to share the data with our staff to make individual school improvements and to develop measures for district-wide systemic improvement,” Faidley said.

This link will bring you to a story with the scores released Friday for area high schools.

Check Evan Brandt’s blog on the old AYP system explaining the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS).

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.