The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 29, 2013

Department of Education corrects numbers, delays evaluation system

LEWISBURG — LEWISBURG — Pennsylvania’s new online school evaluation system will make its debut later than expected while some kinks are worked out.

The new measure of school achievement, called the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile, has been about three years in the making and was set to roll out today.

But late last week, roughly 100 school districts statewide discovered errors in their data calculations, the state Department of Education announced, and the agency decided to delay the start. Friday now, tentatively, is the big day.

That move was welcomed by Superintendent Mark DiRocco, of the Lewisburg Area School District, which was among districts reporting errors in data.

DiRocco commended the Education Department for “wanting to get this right out of the gate.” But while explaining the new system to the school board Thursday night, he noted people would need to get accustomed to the new system.

From the looks on board members’ faces, they agree.

This new system, explained Wednesday during a press briefing at the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit near Montandon, involves new math, numbers, calculations and formulas that require a new way of thinking. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison of the Adequate Yearly Progress, which disappeared in August under the state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind program.

It was about this time every year that Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts would live or die by the latest Adequate Yearly Progress scores, which measured whether districts had enough students scoring proficient or advanced on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test.

That measured an entire school district, and one ill-performing school — and even the method for determining an ill-performing school was questionable — landed the entire district in a warning zone.

Not anymore. With the School Performance Profile, each school — not collectively the school district — will get a ranking between zero and 100 to reflect its achievement. This includes all public schools, charter schools, cyber charter schools and career and technology centers.

A Normal Curve Equivalent score will measure whether student growth has occurred over the year and will be measured in certain subjects.

The 100-point measure comes from attendance and graduation rates, standardized test scores and year-to-year academic progress. It differs with each school because not all students are measured the same. For instance, a high school’s evaluation will include subjects a middle school would not.

Along with achievement, the School Performance Profile will be used for federal accountability — funding — for Title I schools under the No Child Left Behind waiver. In Lewisburg, for instance, the Kelly Elementary School is the only Title I school, determined by the number of free and reduced-price lunch eligible students a school has in its population.

This new system also is to let anyone measure any school against its peer schools statewide. For instance, parents can see how middle schools with music programs compare with each other, or how high schools with strong football programs fare as well.

Testing the system began more than three years ago, and Amy Morton, CSIU’s chief academic officer, was one of its architects.

She noted one concern is there is so much information included for each school, “it will be difficult to drill down and show how scores compare. You have to look at all the breakdowns.”

One measure concerning Lewisburg faculty and administrators is the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System scores, which will account for 40 percent of a school’s rating. The problem, as two Lewisburg principals noted before Thursday’s meeting, is it’s just not clear how the numbers are crunched and the assessment is made.

But ultimately, the goal of the new system is making it easier for parents — for anyone, really — to see how a school does, not compared to each other but for what the student needs or wants. DiRocco noted that, for instance, the Linntown Intermediate School’s string program is a major reason some parents want their kids there.

As a former mentor of his said, DiRocco noted: “Not everything measured is valuable, and not everything valuable is measured.”

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