These 5 Philly schools made big test-score improvements. What’s their secret?

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

When Tammy Thomas, principal at Eleanor Emlen Elementary School, first saw her school’s standardized test scores for 2016, she didn’t feel excited. She felt relieved.

"My reaction was: ‘Thank goodness we didn’t go down in anything,’" said Thomas, who heads the K-5 school in East Mount Airy.

That may sound fatalistic, but it’s understandable.

In 2015, test scores plummeted around the state as Pennsylvania introduced new versions of the math and English PSSAs — standardized exams given to 3rd- through 8th graders. These updated assessments were aligned to the Common Core standards and designed to be much tougher than their predecessor exams.

Many wondered whether scores would start to rebound in 2016 as everyone adjusted to the new tests.

For Philadelphia schools, the short answer was no. Philadelphia students did about as well — or about as poorly — in 2016 as they did in 2015. Math scores went up one percentage point, from 17 percent on grade level to 18 percent. English scores were flat, with 32 percent of Philly kids testing proficient or better.

Read the rest of this story at Newsworks