A New Way To Assess Schools

Pennsylvania is being held to a different standard.

The state has been granted a waiver by the U.S. Department of Education allowing replacement of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) designation system with a state-developed School Performance Profile system and authorizing other No Child Left Behind Act-related changes that will effect school evaluation, planning and assessment.

While the new school evaluation system will be in use this year, not all of the components have met final state Department of Education approval. However, some form of those components, such as the requirements for Keystone Exams, will be in place eventually and constitute an essential part of the evaluation system.

“They’re putting a lot of this out piecemeal,” Warren County School District (WCSD) Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Gary Weber noted, saying the state is issuing unofficial recommendations related to implementation. “We’re in a transitional phase with the state. There are certainly districts that jumped in feet first and are further than we are, but we are prepared for any changes the state might make. At the end of the day, we want to be able to show off our proficiency in the classroom and at the school level.”

The new system is enmeshed with other proposed changes to the state education code that will effect how schools, teachers and students are evaluated. Evaluation results will shape district improvement plans and goal setting, which will be put on a six-year cycle.

The formulas are complicated to the point of daunting.

At the individual school level, five building configuration categories; K-12, secondary, comprehensive career and technology centers and K-8 schools with and without grade 3; determine the percentage various metrics makeup of a school’s total performance score.

For instance, a school with a configuration designation as a secondary school would derive 7.5 percent of its total score from percentage of students who rank as proficient on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests or Keystone Exams while a school with a designation as a career and technology center would derive 4.75 percent of it’s evaluation total from the same metric.

Evaluation indicators include seven in academic achievement, four in the “closing the achievement gap” group for all students and for “historically underperforming” students, four based on meeting academic growth benchmarks and four in other miscellaneous indicators.

“I think it’s misleading to look at just test scores,” District Superintendent Dr. William Clark said. “You need to look at a lot of other things to get an accurate depiction.”

The academic achievement category includes points for percentage of students scoring proficiently on state exams in mathematics, reading, science and writing; scoring on industry standards-based assessments; scoring on grade 3 PSSA reading exams and meeting SAT/ACT college ready benchmarks.

“At the middle school this is important because science and writing didn’t factor before,” Weber noted, adding that high school metrics will eventually be “Keystone (Exam) driven”.

“Closing the gap” metrics are based on student proficiency improvements in mathematics, reading, writing and science.

“Closing the gap” is formulated into total scores once for all students and once for “historically underperforming” students.

“Historically underperforming” is defined as students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and English language learners. Race and ethnicity are no longer factors.

Indicators of academic growth are also factored in. This is the measure of school impact on student progress and utilizes the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS).

PVAAS attempts to quantify the effect of teacher performance on student academic progress. PVAAS considers not only student achievement level at the point when testing occurs, but identifies proficiency both when they begin and complete a class. It then measures progress between the two points.

Due to the method of calculating school PVAAS scores, data can be attributed back to a specific teacher.

Other academic indicators considered into performance profile scoring include graduation or promotion rate; AP, international baccalaureate or college credit course offerings and PSAT scoring.

Schools can also gain extra points on their total score through percentage of students scoring in the advanced category on state assessments or on industry-standards-based assessments. Extra percentage points can also be earned for percentage of students scoring three or higher on AP exams.

“Your rating can go up to 107,” Weber pointed out. Performance scoring will be used in strategic planning, a resultant induction plan will be required to be submitted to the state every six years.

“We have a baseline for our own schools to go on for the next six years,” Youngsville Elementary Middle School Principal Eric Mineweaser said.

“We have to be able to evaluate our performance and see where we need improvement and I think this will do that,” Weber said. “I think a lot of districts were doing this already, looking at all these things.”

Performance scoring is intertwined with teacher evaluation through the Teacher Effectiveness System passed in Act 82 of 2012.

Under the Teacher Effectiveness System, a teacher’s evaluation is made up of the building level school performance profile score; individual teacher PVAAS scores on a rolling, three-year average; an observation and practice rating that takes into account planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities and various “elective data”. Teacher Effectiveness scores are done on a 100 percent system which is then translated into a score on a three point scale.

“Honestly, the observation is the most important piece,” Mineweaser said.

“Elective data” describes a number of other measures of performance not designed by the state.

“Next year we should have an effective system in place to evaluate elective data,” Weber said. “It’s different this year until everything gets put in place.”

The Keystone Exams don’t just effect students, the exams also figure into the performance profile system so the district has begun implementing the testing.