A distorted reality
An ex-principal says inflated test scores skewed decision-making and hurt students. The problem isn’t fixed.
by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
Since 2010, 26 schools, including West, have been either converted to “Promise Academies” or handed over to charter operators, largely on the basis of poor test scores. Last year, the District closed eight schools, based in part on the same scores.
Although it is impossible to undo any of those decisions, it is not too late to “build a system that produces stable data we can have confidence in,” said Supovitz.
No action yet from city or state
To date, though, both the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the School District have declined to address the distorting effects of artificially inflated PSSA scores.
Both continue to use the three years of questionable results to hold schools accountable and guide significant policy decisions.
In September of this year, Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis contended that 2012 is the first year in which the public can be confident that “PSSA scores are a true reflection of student achievement and academic progress.”
Regardless, PDE does not appear to have adjusted the past AYP status of any district or school. Roosevelt Middle, for example, is still deemed to have met its performance targets in both 2009 and 2010 – which gives it a more favorable AYP status now – despite the likelihood that its results from those years were tainted by cheating.
Through a spokesman, Tomalis did not respond to interview requests.
In an email, PDE spokesman Timothy Eller suggested that the state is waiting for its cheating investigation to conclude before making any decisions about adjusting AYP determinations.
“The department is considering the various options, and decisions will be announced when they are made,” he said.
The District has taken a similar stance.
No moves have yet been made to either remove the suspect data from use or to adjust it. Officials in Philadelphia still plan to use AYP status to help determine which schools to close this year. They also will apparently continue feeding questionable PSSA results into their School Performance Index, used to rank schools.
“The District will wait for the [investigation] findings before providing further comment on this issue,” wrote Gallard.
Saliyah Cruz has been affected by it all as much as anyone.
From her office in Delaware, she still wonders where Philadelphia schools would be now if officials had set a “realistic target” for growth instead of touting implausible test score gains as the norm.
“When you set up a system like that,” Cruz concludes, “it’s only a matter of time before you get the issues that we have now.”