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More Philadelphia schools land on state's lowest-achieving list

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by Julie Mazziotta

On a yearly list of Pennsylvania’s low-achieving schools, the number of Philadelphia schools increased in 2013, raising the District’s total from 158 in 2012 to 177 schools, according to the state’s Department of Education.

The Philadelphia School District now constitutes about 44 percent of the list, with 177 of the 406 lowest-achieving schools. Pittsburgh has 21 schools on the list.   

Students at these schools are eligible to apply for the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OITC) program, which provides scholarships for students to transfer to a participating public or non-public school.   

As the Notebook reported last August, Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores in the District plummeted in 2012 after 10 straight years of increases. The proficiency targets also increased.

As a result, only 33 schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), compared to 110 schools the previous year.

State officials later attributed the declines to increased test security in 2012, imposed after evidence of adult cheating during the 2009-2011 school years was found. For the 2012 test, the state Department of Education restricted Philadelphia teachers from administering the PSSAs to their own students. It was the only district in the state that was given this restriction.

Others argued that the drop was due to the massive funding cuts. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Education ranks each school based on the students’ math and reading scores on the PSSA from the previous school year. The lowest-achieving 15 percent of elementary schools, and the lowest-achieving 15 percent of secondary schools in the state are placed on the list.

Under the OITC program, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law last year, students who live within their current schools’ boundaries and whose families earn a household income below $75,000 a year, are eligible for the program.

The maximum scholarship for non-special-education students is $8,500, and special education students are eligible for up to $15,000.

Under the OITC law, the Department of Education must publish the list each year by Feb. 1. After that, school districts are required to post information about applying for the scholarships within 15 days.

Julie Mazziotta is an intern at the Notebook.

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