Last summer, the School District of Philadelphia announced that it would be using a new standardized test to judge students' academic performance starting in the fall. The new test, the TerraNova, replaced the District's previous test, the SAT-9, which was retired by the testing company. The TerraNova is being given in the fall and spring this school year (and will be only in the spring in future years).
Some of the personnel, many of the policies, and much of the attitude that School District CEO Paul Vallas has brought to Philadelphia in recent months have come with him from Chicago.
One key and controversial facet of his program as schools chief in Chicago was introduced here in March before the School Reform Commission -- a grade retention program in which students can be made to repeat a grade if they have low scores on standardized tests.
Over the years it has been widely reported that a gap persists in standardized test scores between various groups of students. Students from low-income communities tend not to do as well as wealthy students, girls do not perform as well as boys, and students of color do not score as highly as White students.
The gap that spurs the most discussion, however, is the one between Black and White students.