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District redesigns school evaluations

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 28, 2014 04:12 PM

The School District has redesigned its school report cards, making it easier to compare schools with the same grade spans and similar demographics.

The new report cards measure academic achievement, progress, and school climate, dividing schools into "peer groups" and highlighting the top performers in each. For high schools, college and career readiness is also measured.

Next year, other criteria will be added, including equity (explained as the growth of the lowest-performing students in the school), educator effectiveness, and parental satisfaction. 

“The District is acutely aware that our schools lack many resources. We remain focused on the fight for adequate funding and obtaining the tools needed for student success,” said Superintendent William Hite in a statement. “In the meantime, the School Progress Report will be used to celebrate successes, identify areas of intervention and support, enable evidence-based decisions and strategically focus our work.”

The new school evaluation puts extra weight on year-to-year progress, emphasizing student growth more than overall achievement.

The School Progress Report replaces the controversial School Performance Index, which was scrapped last year after reports that its data was flawed due to miscalculations.

Not everyone is a fan of making these kinds of school comparisons, saying that it is part of the agenda to grade schools for the purpose of identfying some to be closed or converted to charter schools. 


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Comments (29)

Submitted by Skopp (not verified) on April 28, 2014 8:29 pm
If they are truly comparing apple to apples this is fine, but as an educator in a school of very high needs students (27%) and a blend of children of mid to low incomes, how dare the district place us in groups comparing us to top schools such as Masterman whom only take who they want and excludes the rest. I hate the fact that these report cards are not 100% correct in any shape, fashion, or form and do not compare Apples to Apples. You can not compare a special admit school with that of a local school that is forced to take all students regardless of anything and a lack of resources and staffing to boot. Our students need systems that truly focus on the needs of students at specific schools. When you focus on schools in a competitive way thats when problems begin. Yes some school do not perform as high as others, but in those cases we need to look at RESOURCES, CLIMATE, STAFFING, ADMINISTRATION, PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT, local environments (Also noting and considering in middle and high school parental involvement tends to drop off tremendously), just to name a few. I want to be fair and the district should do the same... Compare schools sure, but be also sure that the public gets the WHOLE STORY and not just the smoke and mirrors that some of the things coming out of the district show.
Submitted by Deborah Grill (not verified) on April 28, 2014 9:06 pm
This is a joke. How can the district compare neighborhood schools that have to take everyone to magnet schools that have admission requirements? How can the district rate schools that do not have adequate personnel or resources? Why would the district establish a rating system when it canceled community meetings when it received negative feedback from community members at the first meeting held concerning school progress reports? Those community members knew that the district should be focusing on getting the resources it needed instead of rating schools and . Dr. Hite and the SRC should be ashamed of themselves.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 28, 2014 9:50 pm
Sounds like they really took to heart the feedback they got about this approach during the aborted series of community meetings last summer... /Sarcasm
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 29, 2014 7:40 am
What they got was obstruction. The "feedback" they got was hostile accusations of privatization, which were not about the task at all. To get educated feedback, they need an educated public. It appears the noisemakers, despite the pretentions, are not that at all. It may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Measuring progress is better than measuring just a snapshot. Would you prefer the prior, SPI?
Submitted by Anonymousse (not verified) on April 29, 2014 9:34 pm
How delightful. Now I can be accused of being an uneducated, ignorant, and lazy parent on both AND The Notebook. You may think you're making some cute little internal point about, I don't know, embittered teachers, but please remember parents read this forum, we care about our children's schools and trivialities like democracy, we have brains, and there's only so much disrespect we can take.
Submitted by Teachin' (not verified) on April 29, 2014 10:27 pm
Yes, the quote you're responding to seems to be the SRC's true mindset: That parents really don't know what's best for their kids. Let's not forget that parents were enraged by the money spent on this new, politically motivated report card. Rather than listen, the SRC canceled the parent meetings.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 30, 2014 10:26 am
Some parents believe in a good education and understand how to promote it for their children. Some parents believe in a good education but don't quite understand how to promote it for their children. Some parents don't believe in a good education, but love their children. Some parents don't believe in a good education, and don't care what happens to their children. Deeming parents as "all knowing", and "all wise" is wrong. How is it the Walter Palmer Charter has enrolled so very many students when it is offering little different than the neighborhood schools that many of these families are fleeing? Do these parents really know what it takes for their children to learn?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 30, 2014 12:44 am
Ms. Cheng is a parent - she is not a teacher. That said, I agree that insulting parents is counter productive. I am a parent of 4 Philly students. The disregard for families by the SRC / Hite / Nutter / City Council / etc. is not only disheartening but maddening.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 30, 2014 10:17 am
My definition of education includes learning to consider facts, and moving forward for improvements, rather than escalating popular fears and tensions that block communication. Sorry if you read this as disrespect, but what ideas were in fact relayed to those trying to improve school "report cards", a system already in place to rate schools? Were there any "educated" suggestions? Please let me know, because right now, parents, even/especially the "educated" ones, already use a popular system to rate schools that is doing more than any formal SDP report card to deplete neighborhood schools. It is most ironic, that these are the same that are buying into the popular inflammatory rhetoric.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 1, 2014 8:18 am
Here are some suggestions I would have liked to see incorporated in a school "report card", some, class size and extracurricular activities, which are included in the "Great Schools" (not the same as the PSP's) website: 1. Teacher experience in terms of certifications/level of education/years of teaching. 2. Active Art/Music/Sports activities. Also, any afterschool activities. Any student organizations? 3. Class size, or student to teacher ratios. 4. Number of grant proposals which a school has written, whether successful or not. Number of community partnerships. 5. Number of parent initiatives which a school allowed. What is the membership size of the parent organization, whether HSA or SAC? I would consider these to be constructive suggestions, not outright condemnation.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 28, 2014 10:59 pm
It might pain you to actually dive into the data and links - but they don't lump magnets with others, etc. Don't let that stop you folks from getting riled up. Wouldn't be the Notebook without uninformed ranting.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 29, 2014 4:17 am
Having downloaded and actually read the Action Plan, it is obvious to me where this is headed. When the speak of "student growth" they are referring to "value added assessment" which means rating teachers according to how much higher they can raise test scores from the year before. This is nonsense. This is a factory model not an education model. In a factory, they can talk about increasing production from year to year because they can control the materials and the tools of production. Acting as if human beings can be put on an assembly line and "improved" from year to year is patently absurd. Likewise, rating a teacher on his ability to create this outcome with no consideration for the multiple variables involved is an insult to intelligence. But it sounds good on paper especially when it is used to justify or not a teacher's salary and benefits. Or further to decide which schools are "ineffective" and must be closed. Creating competition out of this kind of unreasonableness is a formula for the continuation of their plan to deconstruct public education with a view to increased privatization.. Indeed, shame on them..
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 29, 2014 7:05 am
School climate is separate from test scores is it not? Regarding test scores: Sorry, but being able to read, write, and think critically in English is an essential skill in an English based democracy. Aren't teachers trained to teach academic skills? If there is a problem with specific test questions, then these need to be addressed, but currently standardized tests address the bottom criteria for proficiency, not the top. No educated person seriously takes standardized test scores as the complete measure of a child's achievement, they are just a "minimum". Are you saying there should be no minimum standard? The profession of teacher in public/institutional schools would not exist if not for the factory model. Not ideal, but a reality. Can any more than a few families afford private tutors? Finally, the fact of school closures has more to do with the exodus of families with school age children from the City, than it has to do with privatization. The real problem lies there.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 29, 2014 8:00 am
Really, Ms Chang, you apologia for this blatant takeover of public education by big business is evidence of your lack of expertise in any area regarding student/teacher evaluation. Standardized tests were never meant to "measure" value added but to diagnose areas of weakness. The results are not even published until the students have moved on. In the past, we used them correctly to inform future instruction. Meanwhile, we had our own teacher made assessments and reading inventories to evaluate our students and based on the curriculum we taught. They were more valid than the unreliable and poorly designed, mass produced models coming from private test publishers who do not even know the children or their needs. Education with the effect of promoting critical thinking has never followed a factory model. That would be an oxymoron. Factories are for producing identically designed widgets not creative thinkers. Scripted, rote, direct instruction of material only found on a publishers idea of a test is the antithesis of a liberal education.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 30, 2014 10:00 am
You know, it is the "experts" that have diverted the most money from Title I from where it should have gone. You change the topic. Yes, education to promote critical thinking is not based on a factory model; however, our public education system is. A factory model is an economic reality. It is not about making everything the same, rather it is about maximizing work effort by standardization. If you want to change that, well there you have the basic argument for charters. "Blatant takeover of public education by big business"? Perhaps business models and other things that have to do with money wouldn't matter so much if Philadelphia weren't losing so many school children, or if the overall U.S. economy wasn't slowing. You may believe what you want to, but the final judge is what is getting to the children.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 30, 2014 2:15 pm
Ms. Cheng, you continue to reveal you naivete in regards to education. The only people interested in reducing education to what you deem a "factory model" or complete standardization of curriculum, materials and lesson delivery are the edu-entreprenuers who believe in economies of scale and doing more with less to enhance the bottom line. Ergo, all the nonsense about VAM based on standardized testing. All the emphasis on teaching to the test, test preparation classes, scripted curriculum, the de-emphasis of the arts, sciences, and social studies, and no support for school libraries - all point in the direction of the business model created by those who follow the economics of Milton Friedman, Eli Broad and Mark Gleason and many others who have never taught anything. And you offer charter schools as relief from that!??? Charter schools are the very manifestation of the privatization model taken to its logical conclusion. Different companies taking over large swaths of education and imparting their business plan using taxes as their capital. How convenient. Read the text of "Tough Choices or Tough Times" published around 2007 for a description of the plan. In essence, the idea is for states to retain sovereign control of their own school systems and in turn to assign governance of each district to a separate entity like a corporation. Right now Philadelphia is the lab rat for this idea. Different companies are competing for more and more control of the public schools.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 1, 2014 8:02 am
The "jury is still out" on whether the charter model, which is indeed being put forward as a way to be more "personalized" to the child, is an improvement. It was not proposed as a business model; rather it is an outgrowth of the movement to put more decision making in individual schools. I believe the fundamental error is in the perception of what the mission of public education is. It is there to provided a standardized minimum, not cater to all needs. The statement, "thorough and efficient" is a "factory model" statement, especially the word, "efficient". Be careful of how you are generalizing, and be aware that both sides, charter vs traditional, do agree that there are problems with the "mass produced" model. Charters that are not offering anything different than what is already offered in large public school districts, would appear to be failing in making any improvement. The fact that they have to fall back on the very "factory model" that they are trying to escape from should be a sobering lesson to everyone. I may not be an "expert" in educational methods; however, many who are making big assumptions about business models are no experts there, yet are guilty of what they accuse those who do have business knowledge of doing, that would be oversimplifying about areas in which they have no experience. I am curious then. What would be your solution then to the bureaucratic problems of the SDP? Quite frankly, the one proposed by BCG was a very good one, and not a "factory model" one at all.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on May 1, 2014 10:19 am
Ms Cheng, I do not pretend to be an expert on the business model as much as you pretend to be an expert on what the traditional public school comprises. It most certainly was never designed to be a one size fits all model - at least not before the cancer of NCLB entered into the picture. There was no one telling teachers that there was only one way to present a course of study. I have lived long enough to know that trends and experimentation in schools has been going on forever. Charter schools were originally meant to be laboratories of more such innovation. But they have devolved into mass produced models according to the plan of the corporations that run them. Edison Schools was the flagship school manager and all their schools were run in exactly the same way. Mastery also has a formulaic structure. So does KIPP. If they exist in Pennsylvania, they must prepare their students for the PSSA same as regular schools. So what choice is there? Meanwhile, before all this nonsense started, Philadelphia had many tiers of public education, including magnet schools devoted to speciall areas of academic interest like science, the arts or vocational skills. You need to do some reading by educational historian Diane Ravitch to correct some of your misconceptions.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 1, 2014 12:13 pm
My experience with public schools is that I was educated in them (which goes back almost 50 years), and more recently did/do my best to support them by putting my own children in them to help other children. The limitations of my own education motivated me to homeschool my children till family circumstances would no longer allow me to. Observing my children today, I have no regrets about doing this. True, my experience with the SDP does not go back before NCLB, but my experience with public school outside of the SDP does. I agree with you that NCLB seems to have created more problems than it solved; however, there's no denial that even prior to this, children were not learning adequate basic reading, writing, and math skills. Frankly, I believe Title I money would be better spent for social services, rather than academic "accountability". Finally, despite my tendency to write critically, and to be interpreted with hostility, I am not trying to put anyone "down". I just see a lot of damage from misconceptions all around. Charters such as Walter Palmer have been called to task, and others will too. In the meantime, good ideas that might actually change the bureaucracy of the SDP are ignored simply because they don't fit preconceived notions of the "villain" scenario. Again, what are your ideas to change this bureaucracy?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 29, 2014 8:07 am
Hi Gloria: My speech before the SRC last Tuesday was about our "moral imperative" to get accurate data and to be "intellectually honest" about our analysis of the data. Kate Shaw, leader of Research for Action had made that statement about the "moral imperative" of researchers to get valid and reliable data at the American Education Researchers Association conference. Ironically, Kate spoke of the "moral imperative" of researchers, in the very same session of Mark Gleason's infamous "dump the losers" remark. Neither PSSA tests nor the Keystones measure student growth at all. They are not pre and post tests. They do not measure growth of individual students and they are not diagnostic at all. They DO NOT measure what a student learns in a year and they do not measure how much a student grows in reading ability from the beginning of the school year to the end and they do not measure student growth from year to year. They are not used to inform instruction for individual students. And they DO NOT determine a student's grade level in reading. The PSSA's and VAM are designed to grade schools based on the percentage of students who score in the four arbitrary categories of the PSSA's. They are not necessarily even the same students tested from year to year. VAM measures only "a school's increase on PSSA test scores." VAM has nothing to do with an individual student's growth. It only has to do with a school's improvement in test scores. The way the state calculates VAM is a secret. Did you ever try to get a straight answer from the state? Their website explanation of VAM is wholly inadequate. The invalidity of the PSSA data, the lack of reliability of those scores and the lack of credibility of our assessment system is a major issue in all of this. When we, as is our regular practice, teach the test, teach to the test, incessantly impose test preparation curricula on our students, stretch the parameters of propriety during the test and coach the students during the test, the test scores can never be valid. During my 20 years teaching reading, running diagnostic-prescriptive reading programs within the district, and 14 years as an administrator, the PSSA's are the worst tests I have ever been forced to use. The purpose of the state's system of "school" assessment is to label schools as failing so they can justify turning them over to private entities. E.G., -- Steel and Munoz-Marin. Those who have labelled Steel as failing have never even visited Steel for an extended time or did a needs assessment. From what I saw of Steel the other night and talking to Steel parents and teachers, and their principal Ms. Bonner, Steel sure looks like a pretty darn good school community to me. All they really need is a few good reading specialists and some support and leadership from the school district 'leadership." The question I have for the district leaders is this -- What have you done to improve the instructional program at Steel or Munoz-Marin? I say this again to Paul Kihn, Dr. Hite and the SRC -- You do not improve a school, by destroying its community.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 29, 2014 11:01 am
Hi, Rich, I wish I had been there to witness your expert testimony. And thank you for your lucid explanation of why the PSSA and VAM are invalid. Maybe even Ms. Chang can get the message. Schools are not factories or Walmarts no matter how many try to twist them out of shape to fit those rigid unrealistic models. Meanwhile,unfortunately, the influence of the state takeover has already tainted the educational system here in the city. Children are not exposed to enough inquiry based lessons. They hardly get enough science and social studies, since the test has become the curriculum. Art and music which have their own science and mathematical connections are also neglected. The destruction of school libraries is a disgrace. Again I say, shame, shame, shame on them.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 29, 2014 11:15 am
Hi, Rich, I wish I had been there to witness your expert testimony. And thank you for your lucid explanation of why the PSSA and VAM are invalid. Maybe even Ms. Chang can get the message. Schools are not factories or Walmarts no matter how many try to twist them out of shape to fit those rigid unrealistic models. Meanwhile,unfortunately, the influence of the state takeover has already tainted the educational system here in the city. Children are not exposed to enough inquiry based lessons. They hardly get enough science and social studies, since the test has become the curriculum. Art and music which have their own science and mathematical connections are also neglected. The destruction of school libraries is a disgrace. Again I say, shame, shame, shame on them.
Submitted by Seth Kulick on April 29, 2014 11:05 am
I have read Action Plan 2.0 in detail. It is really worth noting the references in it to value-added models. Dr. Hite references the famous Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff study, for this remarkable claim: "when a high value-added teacher enters a school, end-of-school year test scores in the grade he/she teaches immediately rise and students assigned to such high value-added teachers are more likely to go to college, earn higher incomes, and are less likely to be teenage mothers.” What I object to so much is that there is not even so much as a hint throughout the Action Plan that there is any controversy over this at all - as if the Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff study has not been the object of intense discussion, both over its actual content and over policy decisions following from it, or over VAM in general. An Action Plan that actually took in the opinions of parents and teachers would, I think, at a minimum, at least acknowledge the issues around this. I hope that in the future Dr. Hite would at least acknowledge the recent very strong statement by the American Statistical Association about VAM: In a similar way, the financial supplement ignores all proposals put forward by PCAPS, Jobs with Justice, etc. - PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) from Penn, Comcast taxes, etc. It's not they are discussed and rejected. It's as if they don't even exist, or rather, that the people and groups proposing them don't exist. What it amounts to is that the SRC has supported a narrative that gives ammunition to Corbett for laying the blame on teachers. The Action Plan supposedly supports, as "highly effective instructional practices": "Curriculum-driven opportunities to engage in evidence-based conversations" and "... opportunities to use evidence from multiple sources on the same topic to compose an original text or to evaluate composition" "multiple sources on the same topic"? I would dearly love to see time in the curriculum for students, say middle-school and up, to read and study the Action Plan, together with other sources of information, so that they can evaluate as to whether our Superintendent's Action Plan is an adequate example of the kind of "evidence-based conversations" that we wish to have.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 29, 2014 12:15 pm
Seth, your suggestion is wonderful. Let the students themselves critique the action plan based on the same criteria outlined for the evaluation of schools and teachers.
Submitted by Wendy Harris on April 30, 2014 12:42 pm

Hi Seth:

The Notebook is interested in reprinting your comment to this blog post in a section of our edition called "From our readers". We use this section to print letters to our editor and interesting comments that are made about our blog posts. Could you please let me know if we could have permission to reprint your comment. We edit all entries for space and clarity. We also include a tagline at the end identifying you (e.g. The writer is a teacher at West Philadelphia High School), so please indicate how you would like to be identifyed. You can email me at to let me know if you grant us permission for the reprint. I am the managing editor and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Wendy, Managing Editor (

Submitted by James Lytle (not verified) on April 29, 2014 9:57 am
Are "District officials" aware that a school's ability to meet performance standards might relate to the resources it has available? I find it bizarre that the District is proudly announcing the new reports at the same time it has published the doomsday 2014-15 budget.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 29, 2014 11:22 am
And totally ironic.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 29, 2014 11:31 am
I would think so, given the SPR measures RELATIVE performance - relative to a peer group of similar schools - and puts much more weight on PROGRESS than absolute achievement. It is not comparing them to some fictional land of full funding (Lower Merion). It recognizes that the schools and school district are in a tough spot. But I guess you would prefer the district not make an attempt to recognize success and differentiate their scarce resources to the schools that need them most.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 29, 2014 11:32 am
The School District is academically stratified - especially at the high school level. Therefore, if neighborhood high schools with similar demographics are compared, that is one thing. But, to compare charters and magnets with neighborhood schools is not equitable. Sure, Central, Masterman, SLA and the Academy at Palumbo have higher scores because of the students they admit. Strawberry Mansion, Ben Franklin and Frankford have very different student bodies. (e.g. Look at the article in today's Inquirer on a good student from Bartram - she left for a parochial school. More and more "good" students leave neighborhood schools because there are many other options.)

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