In 2014, FACTS received the highest K-8 score in Philadelphia, 88.4 out of 100, on the state’s school rating scale. That year, 84 percent of its students scored proficient or advanced in math, and 75 percent in reading.
In 2015 the PSSA was overhauled; statewide, scores plummeted. FACTS’ proficiency rates declined, especially in math, but were still good enough to place it among the top schools in the city.
“I expected the scores to go down a lot more,” said Lim, called Principal Pheng (pronounced Pang) at school. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
Asians comprise two-thirds of FACTS’ nearly 500 students. The families, many with refugee experience, are from countries including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. Twenty percent are African American, and the rest Latino, White, and mixed race.
Some say FACTS’ scores are high because most students are Asian, who generally do better on standardized tests than other groups, including Whites.
But an analysis of the 2014 PSSA, the last one that was broken down by race and demographic category, shows that FACTS’ Asian students outperform Asian students districtwide by an average of 15 percentage points in each grade.
The data also show that other subgroups, such as African Americans and students learning English, score significantly higher across subjects than the city average for those groups in most grades.
In addition to the folk arts experiences, the FACTS curriculum emphasizes values like stewardship. In social studies and science, often given short shrift in elementary schools, students do projects to study how issues “like hunger, food, and water affect people, and what can you do to make a difference,” said Lim. Literacy lessons include a lot of writing, and math concentrates on learning concepts in depth.
“That’s why we get the good results we get here,” said Ricque Porter, a teacher for seven years and now an administrator. “Students get a good foundation in academics and the skills they need, but we also focus on the whole child.”
And, she added, “We make sure they have a sense of community here.”