Research group calls for revisions to Pa. school quality index

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Does Pennsylvania’s school rating system make the grade?

In a recent brief, Research for Action argues that the state’s School Performance Profile index leaves much to be desired.

Under former Gov. Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania Department of Education introduced the SPP scale in 2013 as a replacement for Adequate Yearly Progress. It scores every school on a 100-point scale using a metric that relies on state standardized tests for 90 percent of its tally.

Federal guidelines have mandated state accountability indices for schools for more than two decades. And 2001’s No Child Left Behind calls for each state to publish an annual school report card.

Proponents of the current SPP system argue that it offers a clear numerical rating that holds all schools equally accountable for their efforts to imbue students with the skills needed to show mastery of the state’s academic expectations.

Opponents argue that SPP’s heavy emphasis on state tests blurs what could be a more nuanced portrait of school worth. They argue that SPP offers little but a codified way to shame schools with high concentrations of impoverished students with deep special-education needs.

A previous RFA report found that – even when analyzing growth measures – low SPP scores were strongly correlated to student poverty.

Since entering office in January, Gov. Wolf has frequently stated his desire to create a more holistic school-quality metric, but his attempt to revise the system remains ongoing.

"Representatives from PDE have been visiting the state’s intermediate units where they are meeting publicly with lawmakers, advocates, educators and administrators, around what measures would make the SPP a better evaluation tool," wrote state Department of Education spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman.

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