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To get into prestigious Masterman, it's 5th grade or bust

by Benjamin Herold on Apr 11 2012 Posted in Latest news
Photo: Michelle Schmitt

Between 2009 and 2011, more than 100 District and charter elementary schools sent students to Masterman. But the school's dozen largest feeders are clustered in Center City, University City, Northwest Philadelphia, and Northeast Philadelphia.

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

For many Philadelphia families, a diploma from ultra-selective Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School is the holy grail of public education in the city.

But how do parents get their children into the prestigious magnet school at 17th and Spring Garden Streets?

Masterman Feeder SchoolsA look at recent District data shows that the real competition takes place after 4th grade – and that students who attend one of a dozen District or charter elementary schools located in Center City, University City, and Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia have a significant leg up.

The race starts early

Over the next few weeks, thousands of Philadelphia students will learn whether they have been accepted into one of the District’s 25 special admission schools or programs. 

None of those schools has more cachet than Masterman, ranked as the 45th best public high school in the country by U.S. News and World Report in 2010.  All of the high school’s students are regularly accepted to four-year colleges, and 99 percent of Masterman’s students score proficient or above in both reading and math on state tests.

Masterman’s nearly 1,200 students – a racially diverse group, about 45 percent of whom are considered economically disadvantaged – are spread across a high school program (serving grades 9-12) and a middle school program (serving grades 5-8).

District data show that it is almost impossible to gain admission to the high school without first attending the middle school. Last year, only a handful of Masterman’s 110 9th grade seats went to students who were not already enrolled in the middle school program. 

Masterman Principal Marjorie Neff puts it bluntly.

“If you’re interested in Masterman High School, you have to come in the 5th grade.”

By the numbers

So where does Masterman get its middle schoolers?

District data show that between 2009 and 2011, almost 1 in 5 incoming Masterman 5th graders came from private or parochial schools, or schools outside of Philadelphia. 

The rest came from over 100 District and charter elementary schools spread across the city, from Patterson Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia to Comly Elementary in the Far Northeast.

But 74 of those schools sent only one student per year or less to Masterman, collectively accounting for less than a quarter of the school’s incoming 5th graders. 

The 12 most popular feeders to Masterman during that stretch, meanwhile, accounted for more than a third of its incoming 5th graders. Meredith and Greenfield Elementary Schools in Center City and Penn Alexander Elementary in University City each sent more than 20 5th graders to Masterman during this time. So did Independence Charter School, also in Center City.

Some of the variation can be attributed to the size of elementary schools and how long they’ve been around. A large, well-established school that serves several hundred students, like Independence Charter, would be expected to send more students than a smaller school created only in the last year or two.

But not surprisingly, Neff says that some high-achieving elementary schools, like Meredith and Penn Alexander, tend to send far more applicants to Masterman than their counterparts around the city.

“In many of those schools, you have a parent population who knows how the system works and how to work the system,” she said. 

Neff said that Masterman is also comparatively accessible for families from Center City and University City. Many parents in other parts of the city are leery of sending their elementary students on long commutes on public transportation.

Nevertheless, Neff said, Masterman makes a concerted effort to find the most talented students from across the city, especially those whose families might not be able to afford other options.

“I am always concerned that we make sure that we have spaces for those kids whose lives are going to be changed by this,” she said.

How the process works

Typically, parents hoping to get their children into special admission schools apply in October or November for the following school year. 

Each year, Masterman receives “crates and crates” of applications for the school’s 165 5th grade seats, Neff said.

Many applicants never make it past an initial cut. Per District-established criteria, students who don’t score in the 88th percentile or above on state tests in 3rd grade, have more than one C in a major subject in 2nd or 3rd grade, or who were absent more than 10 times in a given school year don’t get a second look. 

Those applications that do meet those minimum criteria are then grouped by school and reviewed by committees in what Neff described as a “blind process.”

“We do try to reach out across the city and make sure we are looking at the applications of kids who qualify from high-needs areas,” said Neff.

But other than that, she stressed, “We look for the most qualified students we can.”

And what about the persistent rumors that well-connected politicos and others often get special treatment during the admissions process?

“On very rare occasions, the District will through its administrative offices direct an admission,” Neff said. 

“We haven’t had that happen for quite a while now, but it has happened.”

Room for expansion?

With its newly signed Great Schools Compact, the District is now embracing the notion of expanding the number of “high-performing seats” in the city. Some have speculated that could mean a push to expand or try to replicate magnets like Masterman. 

“It is my desperate hope that we can do so,” said School Reform Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, whose two daughters attend Masterman.

Masterman is a “wonderfully diverse place,” said Pritchett, who emphasized that the District needs to expand access to such high-quality options.

“We have to work very hard to make sure children from every elementary school in the city have access to that opportunity, and to other opportunities around the District,” said Pritchett.

“We have to do a better job.“

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Comments (73)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 14:43.

Masterman is not nearly as ethnically diverse as schools like Northeast HS or even Central. What are the ethnic division stats for 9th - 12th grade versus 5th - 8th grade? In general, the 9th - 12th is less ethnically diverse than 5th - 8th grade.

Also, well connected don't need an "administrative push" to get into Masterman. Their children are already in the door because they either have their kids in private schools (Pritchett), the top feeders (Nutter - who lives no where near Meredith where his daughter went K-4), or they are SDP staff. (It is also fairly common for SDP staff to get their kids in Meredith, Penn Alexander, etc.)

Masterman is not a meritocracy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 16:46.

One of my 2 children went to Masterman for middle school about 10 years ago. The population there was very diverse then and I expect it is the same now. The only common factor seemed to be a high level of positive parental involvement. Parent nights and report card conferences were packed with lines of concerned parents. I did notice many "legacy" students whose parents had been Masterman graduates, but these same parents made sure their children were getting the attention they needed to succeed in school and out and no doubt had planned their children's lives from preschool on so they attended the "right" schools, etc. I am also an SDP employee and I can tell you that the difference between the schools I have worked in and Masterman was very vast where parents were involved. If every school had such a high level of positive parental involvement they would all be "Masterman."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 18:05.

I've corrected this before and I will again: Olivia Nutter went TO POWEL IN WEST PHILLY.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 20:15.

It still was not Nutter's neighborhood school. Powell is K-4 and students either went to Masterman or went to AMY West. Her parents were obviously connected the new the Powell to Masterman pipeline.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 07:27.

Correction, students who go to Powell either go to Masterman or MYA: Middle Years Alternative School for the Humanities, Not AMY West.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 15:01.

IT'S POWEL WITH ONE "L" - clearly you have very little idea what you're talking about.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 16:29.

Okay I spelled Samuel Powel with two ls, however, the kids that attend there feed into Middle Years Alternative or Masterman. I know this because I've work at MYA for a number of years and have dealt with many Powel students. So, I do know what I am talking about.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 19:11.

Masterman is not perfect but overall it accepts the best students. By the way, I know lots of staff who tried and failed to get their kids into Masterman.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/15/2013 - 14:15.

I went to masterman 2 years ago. It is a culture melder. People there have to conform to weird social trends and be of the snobby upper-social class and economic families to stay in through the Highscool. Masterman is by far my most vehemently expressed worst school.

Submitted by gdgman3 on Fri, 03/15/2013 - 17:04.

Your poor spelling, grammar, and syntax are the more likely reason you didn't make it to the high school. Sorry.

Submitted by John (not verified) on Fri, 06/07/2013 - 12:48.

The word 'reason' should be changed to 'reasons' as you have listed three of them. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 00:03.

I am currently a Masterman High School student and I completely disagree with you. My mother makes a little over $35,000 a year and I most certainly do not consider this to be a upper-social class salary. The high school is not a place for economically privileged student and we do not have to conform to weird social trends. In fact social trends in high school are almost nonexsistent. We all express clear, distinct opinions and possess our own unique personalities. No one must conform to anything in the high school.
To be quite honest, I believe you are a bitter middle school student who did not make it into the high school. But please do not let this discourage you at all. Masterman middle school students must learn that the high school is not he correct place for everyone, no matter how bright you may or may not be.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 16:55.

I am sure Masterman is a Great school with amazing students and wonderful, parents, teachers and administrators. I can also give a long list of accolades of what Masterman does for its students along with arguments in support of more schools like Masterman.

However, I have been meaning to point out to our SRC that the combined PSSA scores of many schools are largely a result of who attends those schools. We have "academic stratification processes" in effect in Philadelphia which have evolved over time. This is important when the SRC discusses "moving low performing seats to high performing seats" and using PSSA data alone to close schools. It is important to compare apples to apples.

It is also important to understand that, at the secondary school level, and between some middle schools and elementary schools, we have "academic segregation" of students among schools based on achievement level. We must also be honest when we look at the reality that many students are "deselected" for many of our special admissions schools based on their behavioral history and attendance records.

Many of our so called low performing schools are not low performing at all if we look at their situations realistically. Many schools with a large number of "poor performing students" have such large numbers because they teach a higher percentage of students who have special needs and social deprivations which often hinder or even prevent normal progress.

We need to have open and honest discussions about all of the related issues and their implications.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 18:17.

Rich, you're the best. I find myself constantly having to explain why one neighborhood school's test scores are ~50% lower than another nearby: it's poverty rate is 50% higher! It's always weird to see that light go off in a person's head.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 18:57.

Thanks for the compliment, but I am not the discoverer of the statistical correlation between demographics and standardized test scores in reading. There are other factors, too.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 19:07.

Of course but you articulate it so well!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 18:34.

I'm not sure Masterman has anything to reproduce. Traditional academics works well with the kids it picks. If you rate a school based on the difference in children's test scores entering and leaving, then Masterman doesn't do a lot: the kids come in with high test scores, and leave with high test scores.

They do have a wonderful instrumental music program and support the Arts, visual and theater; keep this in mind.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 20:18.

Both points are important. Most neighborhood schools with higher populations (600 plus) do not have the music/arts program like Masterman. I also assume a lot of Masterman students get private lesson because their families can afford them.

Far too many students who enter 9th grade at neighborhood high schools enter with 3rd/4th grade reading levels. If they leave with a 7th/8th grade reading level, that is huge progress. Masterman has students who score 99% and leave scoring 99%.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 18:28.

Do we know what the graduates of Masterman have done after they have graduated from college?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 18:11.

Well I am a Masterman grad. I am a nurse practitioner, there are 2 attorneys that were in my class, and at least 10 school teachers with graduate degrees. Quite a few writers, a couple of engineers & a physician. There are also a few government employes & law enforcement officers. I'm sorry that I don't keep tabs on everyone but some of us are living up to the HYPE. Let's not forget about our self employeed entrepreneurs!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 19:09.

Sounds good and safe: Anyone do anything novel; any innovators or radical thinkers?

Submitted by citizen (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 19:19.

Ellen Forney is an awesome writer/cartoonist/graphics person. She is the artist Sherman Alexie picked to create the cartoons made by his Native American protagonist in his Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (last year's one-book, one-Philadelphia pick). I think she qualifies as an innovator and radical thinker.
Some of the current and/or recent School District radical teachers are Masterman graduates, people who have figured out how to teach outside the box in spite of all the School District regimentation.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 19:34.

I think the School District's truly radical teachers are the ones that are getting fired for all the wrong reasons.

Not to say we don't need highly skilled, and highly "tuned in" people in our society, but we need to examine the skills/traits that we so narrowly focus on in academics...i.e. It is not a failure to not make it into Masterman.

Thanks for the celebrity name and info.

Submitted by linda (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 21:58.

Back in the old days [1977-78] my Dad went down to the school AFTER getting a letter from the local council representative and TOLD the principal " I have one child [me] STILL waiting on the waiting list so at least take this child[ my younger sister]

She got in and I attended Friends Select School.

I still am on the waiting while I waited I went to college, got two masters degrees and finished my doctorate last year. I think that Masterman was okay for my sister, in that she too, went to college and secured her masters. Bottom line, it is not where you go but what you do when you get there.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 23:43.

What's outrageous is that unlike any other magnet school in Phila. Masterman only takes its own students for high school. They've had a chance to be screened both academically and in terms of behavior. If the staff doesn't like them, they're not accepted for high school. Wish every school had that option. Masterman should be forced to open its high school to students from other schools, and I mean more than 1 or 2 who might be accepted.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:15.

Actually masterman takes as many as they can who pass their requirements, its just that not many other middle schools teach what you need to get in (Algebra, foreign language ect.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 19:29.

The chance of getting into Masterman if a student has not been in Masterman's middle school program is slim to none. The high school has around 400 students - the middle school has about 800. So, 1/2 get into the high school. There are middle schools (public, private, charter) that provide the math and language requirements. Masterman was created to create a so-called "best and brightest" school. It is all part of the SDPs stratified and tracked high school system.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 04:43.

Masterman's acceptance policy begins in pre school. If a child is accepted based on academic performance and behavior in 2nd and 3rd grade, this is heavily influenced by what happened in pre school. A child who can focus/sit still, is exposed to a wide vocabulary, is acclimated to school, etc., has a much better chance of high test scores by 3rd / 4th grade than a child who does not. Whatever the ethnicity of the child, this is a child who is "ideal" for school. Many students are very bright, inquisitive, etc. but are not "school" material because they think, act, etc. "out of the box." While I'm sure Masterman has a few students who don't fit the "ideal student" mold, there can't be many if they rely so heavily on what happens in early elementary school. It would be interesting to see how many students qualify based on gender, ethnicity, zip code, parents' educational level, etc. The fact particular schools have more students who qualify is a reflection on the demographics of those schools. It also a reflection of the bias in our society about what is a "good" student. Prichett and Ramos have/had students at Masterman (Prichett's students went to a Friends school K-4) so they may be clueless about the reality of "average" students.

Submitted by callan (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 16:30.

i am very dissapointed. im in 8th grade and before my spring break, our class recieved mail telling about the schools we applied and telling wheter we were accepted or not. since i was making up the pssa's due to nose surgery during the testings, my class got the mail while i didnt since i wasnt in the class, so when i went down to the office and asked the assistant principal if i can have my mail, she told me that i probably didnt one because the schools dissaproved me, so when i looked at my paper, i was crying beacuse central,bodine,sla,academy at palumbo, and masterman dissaproved me. i felt very snubbed because my grades were fabulous, on my 1st report card in 8th grade i had 7 A's and only 2 B's, and 2d report card 6 A's and 3 B's, in 7th grade my final grades was this 6 A's and 3 B's, and my pssa's in 7th grade was near 1600 in math and 1385 in reading, i am so scared and worried about going in my neighborhood school, i wouldn't survive a day in those schools! oh boy im really nervewrecked, i need help.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 19:14.

Callan - I'm sorry you didn't get in a school of your choice.

That said, I don't know your neighborhood high school but there are good things happening in many neighborhood high schools. (I teach at a neighborhood high school). Based on your scores (and it should also be grades), you will be placed in honor classes. You should also get involved in clubs, sports or other activities.

I'm sure you'll do fine!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 19:18.

Which is your neighborhood school? Perhaps other Notebook readers can guide you. None of the schools are all "bad"; There are gems of teachers in all the schools. No matter where you go, you must find the right teachers/mentors to work with. Don't be afraid to ask.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/13/2012 - 13:43.

If you don't correct your punctuation and spelling when you write, you will have a hard time being accepted to many places from now on. Sorry you didn't get accepted but you must be cognizant about these things as it says a lot about you as a student. Example, when referring to you, I is spelled in CAPS!! That is learned in early years, not 7th or 8th grade.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on Fri, 04/13/2012 - 14:14.

The reality is that (no matter what the requirements say) the schools you named accept VERY few students who do not have ALL "A"s in seventh grade--you also need to have almost perfect attendance and on-time records, and HIGH Advanced PSSA scores. In addition, you should have NO negative behavior comments on your report card. Did you go to an interview at SLA? Missing the interview is an automatic disapproval. This seems harsh, but when schools have huge waiting lists and their pick of students, that is who they pick. As a seventh and eighth grade teacher fro many years, I see this every year. We try to tell students to be really "on-point" in grade 7, but many do not believe it until they see those disapproval letters. That being said, all is not lost--you can do well at many schools. Over the last few years of attending protests and SRC meetings, I have met many VERY impressive students from many neighborhood high schools. If your neighborhood school is not something you think you want to try you may be able to get a transfer to another neighborhood school or special program.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/14/2012 - 13:04.

I would suggest working on your writing skills.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 00:14.

I am very sorry to here of this Callan. I am sure you are a bright young man and will do fine elsewhere. But if I am being quite honest, I must say your PSSA scores were much too low. In 7th grade I scored a 1985 in reading and a 2135 in math. Masterman high school is not the place for everyone.If you cannot maintain a straight A average in the middle school, then you have no hope for the high school. I say this from experience. I maintained straight As throughout my whole middle school career, yet in my past two years at the high school, I have received 2 Bs.
You must find a different school Callan, Masterman is clearly not for you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 22:43.

Michael Bacon was in my class at Masterman back in the late 50's, early 60's.

Submitted by beldujour (not verified) on Fri, 05/31/2013 - 13:16.

You and Michael Bacon were classmates? I think that puts you at one degree from Kevin Bacon. ;)

Submitted by beldujour (not verified) on Fri, 05/31/2013 - 13:16.

You and Michael Bacon were classmates? I think that puts you at one degree from Kevin Bacon. ;)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/13/2012 - 13:48.

“We haven’t had that happen for quite a while now, but it has happened.”
Yeah right!! Those high level administrators at 440 get their kids in even without an application. As stated above, the SRC members have/ had (Ramos, when he was school board president) their kids in. Some of these students are not as bright or (Masterman materials as it is known in the school) but take the place of those who would've made the cut.
Do the same acceptance criteria for everyone including for the high school.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on Fri, 04/13/2012 - 22:19.

 Found out today that the smartest kid I've ever taught didn't get into Masterman today. No room in sixth grade for him. This is not so much a problem for Masterman as it is a problem for the SDP. We need to admit that there are certain students that need special programs. We also need to be unafraid as traditional K-8/K-5 schools to lose our best performing students to these special programs. Of course growing special admit without punishing traditional schools is impossible in the NCLB/RTTT era.  

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/14/2012 - 00:56.

You say that we "need to be unafraid... to lose our best performing students to these special programs." I disagree. We nurture our students for 5 years, and then lose the cream of the crop, academically speaking, after 4th grade. As a result, our 5th grade PSSA scores plummet, making it almost impossible for us to make AYP. Although I encourage my parents to look at special admit schools for their children, I do so with the knowledge that, when their children leave, it comes at a high cost to our school. This leads me to my next thought-

I'm starting to wonder if Vallas was clever enough to intentionally set the Renaissance wheels in motion, by converting K-5 schools into K-8 schools, which in turn caused even more schools to not make AYP. I don't believe for a minute that he converted these schools in order to keep middle-schoolers in schools with the teachers that they grew up with. I'm not that naive anymore.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/14/2012 - 13:00.

Vallas and the K-8 conversion had more to do with the inability to get enough certified middle school teachers. The state had given Philly a deadline to get all of its middle school teachers certified. Because it wasn't happening fast enough they decided to make elementaries accept the upper grades then use elementary teachers to fill in the upper grades despite not being certified.

Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 06:15.

Special admit schools have a graver impact on high schools. Neighborhood high schools, which have a disproportionate number of students with an IEP (and some ELLs) are judged by the NCLB/RTTT criteria. There are far more options for high school - city wide admit to very selective special admit and charters. K-8 schools brag about how many students they "get into" schools with admission requirements. Neighborhood high schools are labeled "schools of last resort." (I assume the exception is Northeast and Washington in the Northeast - schools with internal magnet programs). It is hard to convince the outside world - and neighborhood high school students - that they are not "good enough." There are great things happening in neighborhood high schools - and the vast majority of our students are in school to learn and increase their opportunities.

Submitted by Jesse (not verified) on Wed, 04/18/2012 - 06:29.

I am planning to appeal Masterman's decision in reference to my daughter, who was turned down last year for the 5th grade, and this year for the 6th grade. She scored as high or higher on the PSSA's than the kids who were accepted from her school, had near perfect attendance for 5 years, incredible letters of recommendation from teachers in the school and from Temple University's music program for gifted children. She was a school "safety" and tutored kids in the 4th grade who were mostly Asian immigrants.She was considered a school leader at a very young age, and when she did not get into Masterman the teachers at her school were so upset that they circulated a petition to Masterman's principal, which I had to stop as I did not think it would be helpful.

I know this sounds like every parent's rant, but there is no doubt that my child would have contributed greatly to Masterman, and it is the right school for her. The students that did get in from her 5th grade class were either politically connected (children of a prominent judge) or whose last names indicate a foreign nationality. Although my daughter is half Chinese, her last name is not. The rumor that her school is used by Masterman to fill their Asian "quota" is borne out by the kids they selected.

The reason for her rejection (both years) sounds bogus: "The class/grade is overcrowded." For parents like us who have raised our daughter to always do the right thing and follow the rules, it is a lesson in how unfair and biased these selective schools can be.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/18/2012 - 14:41.

Jesse, my daughter is in the same boat as your daughter. I too, believe that my daughter is Masterman material. She has straight A's and scored very high on her PSSA's. She too, didn't get in due to "overcrowding." My daughter's teachers were also shocked that she didn't get into Masterman. To add salt on my wound is the fact that I am an alumnus of Masterman, but I have to believe that everything happens for a reason and I know that my daughter will dare to be excellent, no matter which school she attends.
I feel like my daughter learned a lesson too early in life that no matter how hard you work, it doesn't always pay off. She was so disappointed to hear she didn't get into Masterman.

Submitted by Jesse (not verified) on Wed, 04/18/2012 - 16:10.

Thanks for your reply! Not only have we experienced a similar rebuff by the school, our daughters reacted in the same way. She is convinced of the hypocrisy of adults and is disappointed in the "system." Most of her friends (about 10 kids from her school) are at Masterman so that is also a blow at her age. I made a promise to her that I would push for a review by the school if she was turned down for the 6th grade. So I will follow through, although it is unlikely that the principal will be swayed. There are probably plenty of children like your daughter who were just as qualified as those accepted.After selecting the children of judges and politicians and meeting whatever racial quotas are secretly in place, they probably close their eyes and pick names from a hat. I really can't see any other explanation for the "overcrowding" response. The school is already overcrowded--this sounds like an avoidance of the truth. So I made a promise to get an answer, and I will do my best to get it. We should talk in case you are interested in pursuing a review with a group of parents.

Submitted by Jules (not verified) on Wed, 04/25/2012 - 07:03.

My son was admitted for 5th grade. He has all A's, scored Advanced on both the Reading and Math PSSA's and is in the school's MG program (with an IQ 135+). My son also has perfect attendance (3rd grade and so far in 4th). He is African American and I really resent the notion that he (along with other ethnic minorities) are admitted largely due to fulfilling some racial quota. He is a very bright boy, we applied using ONLY the EH-36 application and submitting what was required, and he got in. Imagine that?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on Wed, 04/25/2012 - 09:30.

You are correct, people DO NOT realize the importance of attendance, especially in second,third, and the beginning of fourth grade, to get in to Masterman 5th grade. There will always be more bright kids than they have room for--so the only way to make the cut is by looking at attendance. It had better be perfect! NO latenesses, NO (or only 1-2) absences. Also, third grade PSSA scores should be HIGH advnaced in both Math and Reading--proficient or low advanced will not make the cut. Poor behavior comments WILL NOT make the cut! There are plenty of very bright kids with perfect attendance and NO behavior incidents. Any school that has a choice will pick those kids.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2012 - 09:38.

Attendance is very important, I agree. My daughter did miss 5 days but all 5 days she was home sick. I couldn't send her to school if she was vomiting or had strep throat. And she was NEVER late. Straight A's. Advanced PSSA scores. PERFECT behavior. She is in the MG program. Better than some of her peers who got accepted to Masterman, most of her peers weren't even accepted into the MG program. My daughter has been in it since 2nd grade.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2012 - 12:48.

There is a lottery because so many children qualify for Masterman. My son had perfect attendance, great grades, terrific test scores and letters of recommendation from Brian O'Neill and Ed Rendell and still didn't get it. That's just how it is, unfortunate as that may did. He did OK anyway and your daughter will, too.

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 16:36.

You asked a former governor to write a letter of recommendation for your 9-year-old? And he signed it?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2012 - 12:58.

We had a recommendation letter from my daughter's instrumental teacher. It was intended for GAMP. I think it was sent to Masterman, as well, even though I told the counselor I didn't think it should be sent. I personally think recommendation letters are frowned upon. Thank you for responding.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 15:59.

Only 3 Greenfield 4th graders were accepted to Masterman for the coming school year. What has changed?

Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon.... (not verified) on Wed, 07/18/2012 - 17:41.

What has changed is probably the quality (as judged by PSSAs) of the Greenfield 4th graders.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/27/2012 - 02:27.

I went to Masterman for middle school, heck, I was the only girl out of 4 kids at A.S Jenks to go. I graduated 8th grade in June and I didn't get accepted for the high school. I didn't get accepted anywhere. Catholic school was my only option, and I wasn't happy.
Masterman IS amazing, I'll give it that. We learned 10th grade material in 7th grade. I knew a few kids in my position as well. We were all smart, if not smarter than the kids who got into the high school.
The problem with Masterman is that it is too small. It should be big enough to accept all of the current middle-schoolers into the high school.
Even if you go to Central, which is a really good school, you know more because you went to Masterman. You just take all of your classes over again, while your Masterman buddies are taking basic college courses in high school. You feel left down.
The faculty doesn't know what goes on in the halls, though. And as an insider, I'll divulge this prized information. The students who get the A's and get in Masterman, they're the ones cheating, most of them, at least. Copying homework while walking down 5 flights of stairs and, looking over people's shoulders to get the answers is performed by these "gifted children".
I never cheated. In fact, during one class I was sitting with friends. We were talking about a test or something and they brought up cheating. We had already received our letters; all three of them were going to Masterman. They all said that they cheated more than once this year. They laughed it off while I sat there looking at posers.
That's what really happens at Masterman.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Fri, 07/27/2012 - 08:21.

So the question should then be, How can we ensure that all of Masterman's middle school students are accommodated in the high school?

After all, we are supposed to be creating more seats in our high performing schools, aren't we?

And we are supposed to be operating our schools for the best interests of its pupils, aren't we?

And we are supposed to be practicing "servant leadership," aren't we?

So how can we create more space for Masterman to "serve" all of its present students? Perhaps we could use 440 North Broad Street and send some of our best and brightest to class in some of the empty rooms there? It is right around the corner, isn't it?

Then maybe the adults down there at 440 could see and learn what "high performing students" actually do and how amazingly bright you really are!

And they could learn how to turn "empty seats" into "high performing seats."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 00:24.

The problem is not that Masterman High School is too small, the high school excels because it IS small. As a current Masterman High School 10th grader, I could not imagine all my middle school peers being let into the high school. It would be absolutely chaotic. I was accepted into the high school and I never once cheated during middle school. My friends who were also accepted did not cheat either.
The fact that you were not accepted by five high schools proves that it was probably your personal resume. I was accepted into all five of the high schools I applied to and chose Masterman because it is small, elite, and free of drama that many of our middle schoolers would bring. My friends act compassionately towards one another while helping fellow peers in a very stimulating and diverse classroom.
That's what really happens at Masterman.

Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 06:17.

Key word - "elite." Do we want a system that perpetuates the notion that one's school determines one's status? Not very democratic.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 23:01.

The school is elite but I never once said the students were! I come from a low-middle class family and we are most certainly not elite! Masterman is an elite school that produces many wonderful students. Please understand, that though some do not, many Masterman students consider themselves as normal children and hate social labels. Masterman is not some organization that contradicts democratic values. We are a PUBLIC school, all are welcome, including low-middle class children who did not attend a private elementary school like myself.

Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on Sun, 03/17/2013 - 23:21.

Masterman certainly is not "all are welcome." It is a school which takes students who perform at the top in 3rd grade. They have to consider ethnic and gender diversity - otherwise, the school in 5th grade would not be very diverse. Again, Masterman only has students who are good at school. It certainly does not welcome everyone - it only welcomes the very few which is why I assume you consider it "elite." I would find it more interesting to go to a school which also has a much more diverse student body - students who aren't just "good" at school or will play the game of school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/03/2012 - 23:43.

I am enrolling into the 9th grade at masterman *(class of 2016)* and I am extremely honored to be one of the few that are accepted to attend the school that didn't attend the elementary or middle grades. After visiting and spendenig a day in their classes I know it's a great fit for me. They have a family oriented base that allows the students to get to know their teachers and vice versa which can be rare in some high school selections. I cant wait to begin this incredible journey and finally be sure that I made the right selection!!!

Submitted by Mandela (not verified) on Mon, 04/22/2013 - 21:40.

Don't allow yourselves to be deceived that you will necessarily excel just because you've been to Masterman since its a school just like any other. I recently came from England and believe me a student from Masterman could not define what organic chemistry is. I once lived in Uganda which is a country in East Africa; and the science courses offered in high school there are college courses here. In fact its the same case in England since they adapted their Education trends from us. That same student from Masterman could not give me answers to many other questions and I know many of you may start thinking; American education is totally different from the British system of learning, what makes him start comparing the two? But I am simply saying that beacuse I read a comment on this page stating that high school students in Masterman take basic college courses, I stand in postion to ridicule that statement and refer to it as sarcasm. And please don't be demoralised or discouraged just because you failed to get into Masterman because its a school just like any other. Believe it or not if you are confident in yourself, you are better than any of the students that are in there.

Submitted by Proud Parent (not verified) on Fri, 05/31/2013 - 23:18.

I am so proud to say my daughter attends Masterman Middle School. I was thoroughly happy with our local public elementary school, H. W Lawton, where she was pulled out of class daily to be challenged with higher levels of math and reading, as well as, spanish. My daughter had been in the gifted support program since 2nd grade. It wasn't until she was in 5th grade that her teacher recommended she apply to Masterman for 6th grade.

She applied, was accepted and decided to give it a try. I told her if she couldn't handle the work, disliked anything about the school or hated carpooling, then she could transfer back and finish up at Lawton. A year and a half later and she has not looked back. Straight A's, inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, and can't wait to see her PSSA scores. This is where she was meant to be .... she fits ..... she just gets it!!

My daughter will apply to Masterman High School. Whether she is accepted or not is out of my hands. If accepted, it will be her choice to attend or go elsewhere. If she is turned down, then it wasn't meant to be. I love the fact that there is only room for 1/2 of the middle school (3/4 may be better), but it weeds out those who may not be cut out for the challenge and others who may have strayed off the path.

Lastly, we are middle class folks in Wissinoming ... with no connections. She got where she is by studing and dedicating herself. Of course things come naturally to her and not having cable tv helps!

Best wishes to all!

Submitted by Proud Parent (not verified) on Fri, 05/31/2013 - 23:22.

I am so proud to say my daughter attends Masterman Middle School. I was thoroughly happy with our local public elementary school, H. W Lawton, where she was pulled out of class daily to be challenged with higher levels of math and reading, as well as, spanish. My daughter had been in the gifted support program since 2nd grade. It wasn't until she was in 5th grade that her teacher recommended she apply to Masterman for 6th grade.

She applied, was accepted and decided to give it a try. I told her if she couldn't handle the work, disliked anything about the school or hated carpooling, then she could transfer back and finish up at Lawton. A year and a half later and she has not looked back. Straight A's, inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, and can't wait to see her PSSA scores. This is where she was meant to be .... she fits ..... she just gets it!!

My daughter will apply to Masterman High School. Whether she is accepted or not is out of my hands. If accepted, it will be her choice to attend or go elsewhere. If she is turned down, then it wasn't meant to be. I love the fact that there is only room for 1/2 of the middle school (3/4 may be better), but it weeds out those who may not be cut out for the challenge and others who may have strayed off the path.

Lastly, we are middle class folks in Wissinoming ... with no connections. She got where she is by studing and dedicating herself. Of course things come naturally to her and not having cable tv helps!

Best wishes to all!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/03/2013 - 01:17.

I'm sure Masterman is great for lots of people. But I'm really struck by this attitude of it being great because it is small and exclusive. One of the things that was great about Central when I went there was that it tried to be as big as possible, to try to take as many people as it could stuff into the building. It overcrowded its classes, people couldn't fit into the lunch room, even though people had lunch every period. But there was a culture that believed in the capability of its students. We looked at each other with respect, and, for the most part, tried to help ourselves and our friends succeed. And we did succeed. (Even my two friends who failed out found success in life.)

Central was certainly exclusive in many ways--most notably, it is a school for people who know they want to go to college. So schools that don't have a similarly motivated student population can't really be Central, and can't get by on the deficient resources (mostly in the form of seriously deficient faculty and books) we often dealt with (though there were also many excellent teachers).

My real point, though, is that it's just fine if Masterman doesn't take everyone--it is probably only a good environment for an elite few. The thing that other schools should emulate about Masterman is its apparent sense of self-esteem--all schools, whatever their specific goals, need to be able to provide students with a sense that they have gifts, and that these gifts can be realized. And if you are reading this, and you didn't get into the school you wanted, realize that these things are arbitrary. Administrators don't know you. Figure out how to be a success wherever you find yourself--there is no perfect school. Certainly, there is no school that is perfect for everyone.

Meanwhile, it is the very important job of the adults to try to make sure that even though no school can be right for everyone, every student should be able to find a school that is right for them. This is certainly not true now, but it should be. And in my opinion, we need to do more to support technical schools as well.

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on Mon, 06/03/2013 - 04:22.

While you make some important points, Central only takes students with high standardized test scores - just like Masterman. Test scores are the main determinant for getting into Central. Many students desire college but they may not have high enough scores even if their scores are good. Central also has a robust alumni association and parents association which provide additional funding. The library is only one example.

Submitted by Brooke (not verified) on Sat, 06/08/2013 - 10:29.

I don't believe that it's fifth grade or bust for Masterman. I attend Anne Frank Elementary school which isn't a top feeder and I also applied in the fifth grade. I was accepted for the 6th grade at Masterman. I just think that to get in you need to put effort in starting in the third grade. I've been getting straight a's in all major subjects since 3rd grade ( I have one or two b's in gym). I had at least 6 reccomendation letters from teachers. My mother wrote a letter and I did as well. I also had advanced pssa scores and Im in Mg. You have to prepare from a young age to get into Masterman. It's awesome and Im so excited to start this September.

Submitted by Proud Parent (not verified) on Sat, 06/08/2013 - 11:09.

Welcome to Masterman Brooke... you'll fit right in. My daughter also started in 6th grade. See my post above on 5/31/13 by "Proud Parent".

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/12/2013 - 16:14.

If your son or daughter didn't get into Masterman, you have to face either one of three realities:

1. You have too much money, so send them to private school or consider giving some of that money to others who actually need it. McDonald's has a very decent and accessible charity set up.

2. Your child just isn't good enough, either by nature or nurture. Ask yourself, would you have gotten into Masterman as a kid? If not, there's your answer as to whether your child will.

3. Your child is too good for Masterman, and understanding why they didn't get in is like dividing by zero. This is by far the most reasonable and common rationalization.

If you feel like number three fits, see number two. Now, let's get real.

Parents, please note that whatever school you send them to will not be a game changer. The truth is, the parents and surroundings affect children's outcomes far more than a formal education. Sure, Masterman is a nice plus, but that's exactly what it is: a plus. Focusing on the minutiae is going to make your child an unhappy freak. Not focusing at all warrants a call from CPS. Listen to someone who has been pushed through the system.

Plenty of kids from Central go to Ivies. Maybe even more so than Masterman, not considering percentages. If all you want is for your child to get into an Ivy, reevaluate your approach to life and restructure your philosophy. You're making your kid write their paper to get the grade, the A. Teach your kids to love learning, to love life and to love one another. When I write open-ended English papers, I write because I love writing about whatever topic it is, not because I want an A. And you know what? I get the A, easy.

Inspire your kids to live life this way, and they will get the A in life, not because they want the piece of paper saying they're Masterman or Ivy material, but because they set their own boundaries. And you know what? They'd probably have a better shot getting into an elite college this way anyway. The most important part is they'd be happy.

Submitted by Chris O'Daddy (not verified) on Wed, 10/02/2013 - 11:35.

What kind of PSSA scores will typically work assuming a kid has all A's? What are the scores of kids whove recently gotten in to the 5th grade? Thanks in advance for any help.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/02/2013 - 13:34.

Depends on ethnicity and gender. Masterman can't accept all white and Asian girls. The application states 88% on test scores but in reality, white/Asian girls needs 99%.

Submitted by Proud Parent (not verified) on Mon, 10/07/2013 - 23:56.

@ Chris O'Daddy.... My personal legwork and opinion....

I can only recommend you review a few parts of the PSSA Technical Report. I do not see a copy of the 2013 PSSA Technical Report posted, so here is the link for 2012:;//;80/po...
I would print Table 13-3 on pdf page 229 which shows the scaled score cut offs between each performance level for each grade and subject and then compare it to Appendix N beginning on page 627. Appendix N converts the quantity of corrects answers to a scaled score to a cumulative percent to a percentile.

Chris O'Daddy asked about PSSA scores to get into 5th grade. I would assume a student's 4th grade PSSA scores would be reviewed. Based on Table 13-3, in order for a 4th grade student's performance level to be Advanced he/she would need to score at least 1446 in Math and 1470 in Reading.

In the 2012 Appendix N page 632, a 4th grade scaled score of 1446 in Math means the student received a raw score of 50 (out of 72), which converts into a Cumulative % of 49 or 48 Percentile. And based on Appendix N page 644, a 4th grade scaled score of 1470 in Reading means the student received a raw score of 42 (out of 52), which converts into a Cumulative % of 73.9 or 72 Percentile.

If a school requires an incoming 5th grader to achieve a 4th grade PSSA Percentile of 90 and above, then the student would need a scaled score of approximately 1773 in Math and a scaled score of approximately 1643 in Reading.

I'm a parent who does not know the requirements and this is only my opinion based on my assumptions, analysis, and interpretation of sections of this voluminous document. If I am totally wrong, I'm sorry!

Here is a link to Masterman's Admission Guidelines (PSSA=88 plus additional requirements):

Here is a link to the PA Dept of Education to find out how specific PA Schools are doing:

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/08/2013 - 01:50.

Students apply in 4th grade based on 3rd grade scores. 4th grade scores aren't released until late in the summer - post acceptance date.

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