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Scores up, but schools hit with added targets

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Scores on the state’s standardized reading and math test improved in Philadelphia this year, with more students reaching proficiency levels in every area tested except third grade math.

Despite the continued growth in test scores, however, the District announced in August a drop in the number of schools meeting their 2007 “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) performance targets under the No Child Left Behind Act.

This year’s gains on the Pennsylvania System of State Assessment – the fifth year in a row of overall test score improvement – were more consistent across the board than last year’s, when scores in several areas dipped.

Districtwide student proficiency rates ranged from a high of 52 percent for fourth grade math to a low of 31 percent in 11th grade math.

But in 2006-07, just 107 of 268 Philadelphia schools met all their NCLB targets, a decrease of 24 schools from last year. Over three years, the percentage of District schools making all their AYP targets has dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent, despite rising District scores during that period.

Interim CEO Tom Brady attributed the drop to different measurement standards; this year, more schools had to meet additional targets for demographic “subgroups” of students.

NCLB requires schools to achieve certain percentages or gains in proficiency in reading and math for the overall group of students tested and for certain subgroups – racial groups as well as low-income students, English language learners, and those in special education.

A particular subgroup target applies to a school whenever there are 40 or more tested students from that group. This year, because testing was extended to more grades, nearly half the schools had to meet the targets for at least one additional subgroup. Schools with more subgroups are typically less likely to meet all their targets.

With NCLB up for reauthorization by Congress and its accountability mechanisms facing criticism, Brady declined to call the subgroup provisions unfair but said, “We’re recommending changes.”

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