Philadelphia school district unveils new progress reports with limited COVID data

Exterior of the School District of Philadelphia building.
The Philadelphia school district unveiled Thursday a new annual progress report with limited pandemic data. The new report is intended to look at how well schools provide opportunities for students. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

In an effort to judge schools on how well they provide opportunities for all of their students, the Philadelphia school district unveiled Thursday a revamped annual progress report with limited data from the last pandemic year.

The report for the 2020-21 school year lacks most of the information needed to give a full picture of progress in the district’s 216 schools, including test scores and discipline data. To account for that, district officials have dubbed the School Progress Report for Education and Equity “SPREE Lite.”

The report did offer some insights into the last year of pandemic schooling.

According to the report, the percentage of students attending school at least 95% of the time in Philadelphia in the last school year dropped to 51%, compared to 56% in the 2019-2020 school year. And 24% of students attend school less than 80% of the time.

The four-year graduation rate for the 2021 cohort stands at 80% for traditional high schools. The rate drops to 70% when alternative schools are included. Those schools serve students who, because of discipline or other reasons, are off-track toward accumulating needed credits.

In the 2019-20 school year, the graduation rate including alternative schools was 72%. The 80% figure stayed the same.

Three quarters of students are on track to graduate after ninth grade, but less than half the students, 48% enroll in college the fall after graduation.

Nearly three-quarters of high school students in the Philadelphia school district do not take Advanced Placement classes or participate in International Baccalaureate programs. Of those that do, 15% of students meet the standard on AP or IB exams.

District officials chose to release the report, despite its limited data, “to familiarize the district community with the new system, metrics and tool,” according to a press release.

SPREE typically includes test scores and measures of equity, including access to Advanced Placement courses and race and gender disproportionality in suspensions. It also measures student, parent and teacher attitudes through surveys about their schools’ instructional and overall climate.The school district didn’t give standardized tests in spring 2020 or 2021, limiting the amount of data it has on student progress. Since most of the 2020-21 school year was fully virtual, data on disciplinary suspensions also is missing. 

Once the district has test scores, officials plan to break out student achievement results by racial and ethnic groups. 

SPREE replaces the School Progress Reports, or SPR, that have been used for most of the tenure of Superintendent William Hite. 

The goal of the revamped report is to provide information more responsive to the Board of Education’s “goals and guardrails,” which were adopted in 2020. These set clear expectations for what district students must be able to accomplish and the conditions that must be in place at each school to meet yearly progress goals. The goals were not limited to academic achievement, but included a directive to ensure that schools have a “welcoming and supportive environment.”

The new report still divides schools into four categories, similar to the SPR. However, the tiers now have different names and school reports are color coded: blue for meeting expectations and improving, green for meeting expectations but not improving, yellow for falling below expectations but improving, and red for neither meeting expectations nor improving.

SPREE also includes ratings, based on surveys, of how students, parents and teachers view their own school’s climate based on the standard of being “welcoming and supportive. 

Districtwide, parents gave the highest climate score, 9.1 on a scale of 10, and teachers the lowest, 6.2. Students were in between, at 7.6.

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