Grading Philly-area schools

The School District of Philadelphia headquarters on Broad Street (File photo)

Grading schools is always a tricky business. 

But PennCAN, the local arm of a national nonprofit that aims to “enact research-based education reforms that will give every child in their state access to a great school,” has attempted to do just that — assign a letter grade to every school and school district in Pennsylvania in a new database released today.

The methodology, the organization said, is simple — schools get letter grades in five categories, from student performance to performance gains.  Also considered are: subgroup performance (for low-income, African American and Latino students), achievement gap, and four-year high school graduation rates.  The scores considered come from the highest tested grade at each school.

How does Philly fare?

Well, some schools do just as well as you’d expect.  Masterman gets straight As. (Central gets an A for student performance, but a D for graduation rate.)

But there are some surprises — Greenfield, an elementary school so valued that people weep when they hear their children can’t get in through the voluntary transfer process — scored a D- on student performance.  Penn Alexander, where parents are willing to literally sleep outside on the sidewalk for four days to gain a kindergarten spot for their kids, scored a C+ on student performance.

It's clear, then, that these grades are based only on test scores, which are important but not everything. They don't take into account the intangibles - how well certain schools do despite enormous challenges in their kids' lives, or how some places are badly-needed anchors in the community.

PennCAN also generated several top-10 lists, and a number of Philly district and charter schools appeared on those.

For performance gains/elementary schools, the Hardy Williams Academy, a Mastery Charter school, ranked third.

For African American student performance/elementary schools, the Russell Byers Charter School ranked second; Wissahickon Charter ranked third; Powel Elementary, a Philadelphia School District school, ranked fifth; Northwood Academy Charter ranked seventh; C.W. Henry, another district school, ranked ninth; and Hardy Williams ranked tenth.

For Latino student performance/elementary schools, Northwood Academy Charter ranked tenth.

For performance gains/middle schools, KIPP Academy Charter ranked first; the district’s Leeds Middle ranked second; Young Scholars Charter School was tied for third; the district’s Overbrook Education Center was ranked fourth; People for People Charter was ranked sixth; and Wakisha Charter was ranked eighth.

For low-income student performance/middle schools, the district’s Russell Conwell Middle School ranked fourth and its AMY Northwest ranked fifth; West Oak Lane Charter ranked sixth; Young Scholars Charter ranked seventh; and the district’s Baldi Middle ranked ninth.

For African American student performance/middle schools, the district’s Hill-Freedman ranked first, C.W. Henry ranked fourth and Overbrook Education Center ranked fifth.  Mastery Charter/Thomas ranked sixth, West Oak Lane Charter ranked seventh; Young Scholars Charter ranked eighth; AMY Northwest ranked ninth; and Mastery Charter/Shoemaker ranked tenth.

For Latino student performance/middle schools, Conwell ranked first, Northwood Academy Charter ranked second, and Independence Charter ranked fifth.

For African American student performance/high schools, the district’s Carver High School of Engineering and Science ranked first, Science Leadership Academy ranked second, Bodine High ranked third and Academy at Palumbo ranked fourth.  Preparatory Charter School ranked fifth; Friere Charter tied for sixth; Mastery Charter/Shoemaker ranked seventh; Girls High ranked ninth; and Mastery Charter/Lenfest ranked tenth.

For Latino student performance/high schools, Franklin Towne Charter ranked first and Bodine High ranked third.

What’s your take on the grades, and on the lists?