School profiles have early errors

The Pennsylvania Department of Education made public on Friday its new measure for performance of public schools in Pennsylvania.

However, the School Performance Profiles of many high schools in districts including Altoona Area High School might not be complete until January because of errors involving test score information.

Until the state corrects the problems, Keystone Exam scores for many schools – and the department’s website feature allowing users to compare a school’s profile score with others in the state – will be suspended.

“From preliminary looks, we are in very good position,” Altoona Area Superintendent Tom Otto said, although no score is published for the district.

Though there are kinks to be worked out, the state’s new school Performance Profiles replace the former federal Adequate Yearly Progress school report cards that many states have bargained to get rid of after more than a decade of being measured by annually increasing goals that have become near unreachable for students in recent years.

Pennsylvania’s new School Performance Profile scores are based on a scale of 100 and include multiple factors given a certain percentage weight by the state. However, the new measurement continues the past practice of leaning heavily on results of state standardized exams, PSSAs for elementary students and Keystone Exams for high school students.

After examining the spreadsheet for the thousands of Altoona Area students that took Keystone Exams, Otto said 16 students who took the tests did not have any scores listed beside their names.

“We are all going to have to be patient with the state as we work through glitches of this system,” Otto said. “The state is trying to find a way to quantify how schools are doing. I’m not threatened or intimidated by that. It’s a good thing. I understand what the state is trying to do.”

“This is to let government, community and parents know how we are doing. This is a decent first attempt.”

State education department spokesman Tim Eller said the hiccup in performance profiles resulted from schools not coding Keystone Exams properly.

“Altoona Area High School is one of 626 schools statewide that did not ensure student Keystone Exams booklets were coded as either an end-of-course assessment or for federal accountability purposes,” Eller wrote in an email. “The department provided guidance to schools in December 2012 and May 2013 prior to the Keystone Exams administration to ensure that each student’s test booklet was properly coded. These schools did not follow directions and saw that their student growth measure was not what they expected.”

The state was to unveil the school performance profiles Sept. 30, but Department of Education officials postponed the release for all 3,200 traditional, charter, cyber and technical schools after complaints about technical errors that resulted in many students’ Keystone Exam results not being properly counted.

Schools’ scores have been fluctuating up to the last few days for reasons other than Keystone exams as well.

As of Monday, Central Cambria High School’s score increased because of corrections the district made to the state’s report of its dual enrollment courses, Principal Kim McDermott said. Dual enrollment and other opportunities that schools offer for students to gain college credit while in high school are included in School Performance Profiles.

Keystone Exam scoring problems also occurred at Central Cambria, she said.

“It’s new. It’s a starting point for all of us,” said McDermott, who has been emailing state department officials back and forth throughout the week regarding preliminary results.

When the information is properly displayed, she believes it will be useful.

“It is a starting point for us that gives us an opportunity to look at our strengths and concerns, and to adjust our programming, procedures and professional development for our staff,” she said.

Scores have been published for schools including Williamsburg Community School District Junior-Senior High School, but scores cannot be compared with other schools of similar structure until all Keystone data collection is complete.

“It’s very important to keep in mind a lot of different factors are being reported, but a majority of a school’s score is still PSSA and Keystone scores,” Williamsburg Principal Travis Lee said.

“It doesn’t take into account the social and emotional learning that takes place in schools,” he said. “I don’t think it fairly captures the learning taking place in schools.”

And while schools will be judged by student progress in the future, the scorecards unveiled on Friday ignore that category, Lee said.

“In the future, there will be a closing the achievement gap score [which measures a school based on student improvement over a period of six years]. Those criteria are not used this year, however, the report shows.

“If we could show progress, our scores would have been better,” Lee said.

The School Performance Profile was designed to provide the public with a comprehensive overview of student academic performance in every Pennsylvania public school building.

Otto said he has visited each classroom and said each Altoona Area teacher is engaged with their students.

“I don’t want people to think one score can measure all the great things that are going on,” he said.

There are many factors he said he believes the community should consider as they examine school performance profiles.

The state was able to implement the school performance profiles to replace AYP obligations of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act by implementing new teacher evaluations, academic standards and school performance measures.

“We are faced with a tremendous amount of change in a short period of time. Employees of the district have demonstrated a tremendous work ethic. Let the scores fall where they may. We will use them to keep growing.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.