Come next year, more Pennsylvania schools will be tagged as struggling -- given supports and deadlines to improve -- under new rules detailed Thursday by the state.
The changes come as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind, signed in 2015 by President Barack Obama. Under the law, known as ESSA, every state is required to come up with plans to close educational achievement gaps and ensure equitable access to high-quality public schools.
Schools are judged not solely on high-stakes test scores, as they have been for years, but on measures like growth, attendance, and the number of students who enroll in college or move to careers after graduation. They also will be held accountable for how subgroups of historically underperforming students do: English-language learners, special education students, students of color.
“The Wolf administration recognizes that students are more than test scores, and that many factors contribute to student success,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said in a statement. “The schools designated today will receive a variety of supports tailored to their unique needs. Ultimately, this extra support will create a more successful learning environment for students.”
That look at subgroups is crucial, and in some cases lands a school that has historically been considered a higher-performing school in the state’s cross hairs.
“This process and system allows for the recognition of schools that are not serving every student, or all of the demographics in their schools,” said William R. Hite Jr., Philadelphia school superintendent.
In Philadelphia, for example, Saul, a magnet school, is now on the list as needing intervention because of the performance of its black students.
Those schools named in the new accountability framework will receive technical assistance from the state while they develop their own plans for improvement.
The new rules affect millions of students in the state’s 500 public school districts and nearly 200 charter schools. A school’s performance over two years is considered.
For the 2019-20 term, 190 schools statewide have been cited as needing “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” (CSI) as a result of performing in the lowest 5 percent of schools statewide. About 97 have been identified as “Additional Targeted Support and Improvement” (ATSI) schools, where just a subgroup of students was in the lowest 5 percent. They will be given extra resources and expected to make gains with state help.
Altogether, 60 Philadelphia schools need some type of intervention based on the state’s assessment system. The figure represents a significant drop in the number of district schools designated as struggling.
Five city charters also landed on the list — Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD), Olney Charter High School, Universal Audenried High School, KIPP DuBois, and KIPP Philadelphia.
In the suburbs, 26 schools were identified as needing supports, including Chester High School in the Chester-Upland district; Cheltenham High School; Bensalem High School; and Coatesville Area High School.
Most needed interventions because of their special education population, but some schools had low-performing black, Hispanic, or economically disadvantaged students.
Greg Manfre, director of secondary education in the Upper Darby School District, where two elementary schools were on the list, said, “We certainly don’t hide the fact that there are schools that need to improve and grow.”
But he said the state has not offered more money to help schools get off the list. “It makes it very difficult to put the resources in place that these kids and these schools need to be successful without a fair funding formula," he said.
For Philadelphia, Hite said, the framework for the new system was a boon -- an improvement in how schools are judged that meshes well with the accountability program already in place in the city, its School Progress Report.
The state’s new tool "relies less on standardized tests and looks more at all the things that matter to the success of students,” Hite said.
Pennsylvania’s ESSA requirements represent a sharp shift from those of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era, when consistent failure to meet state standards could trigger consequences for public schools ranging from charter conversion to forced staff turnover. Though the state hasn’t detailed what might happen to schools that don’t hit targets, that’s not the point of this framework, Hite said.
Under the consequences of the NCLB era, “a lot of schools didn’t improve, although they went through these draconian types of measures. We didn’t find that that was, over the long haul, very beneficial," Hite said. Philadelphia, for instance, has given more than 20 of its struggling schools to charter organizations to run, but has pulled back from that strategy over the last several years, citing mixed results.
State officials said they carefully designed the accountability framework, with local input, which “emphasizes collaboration between state and local stakeholders to identify and address root causes for existing problems, to implement appropriate and evidence-based corrective actions, and to carefully monitor the pace of improvement," according to the Department of Education’s website.
Christine Borelli, principal of Benjamin Franklin High, said in a district statement that she welcomed the new supports.
“The state’s changes to the way that it supports schools reflect what we’ve been focused on here at Benjamin Franklin High School,” Borelli said. “We know that helping every student achieve at high levels requires targeted and individual support. Additional focus on the students who need support will help ensure that all of our students can succeed academically.”
Schools' designations last until 2021, the next time Pennsylvania will evaluate its public schools for inclusion on the list.
Pennsylvania earlier this year introduced its Future Ready PA index, a system that evaluates each school on academic and other measures.
The 60 Philadelphia schools that landed on the state’s list for needed improvements are:
AMY at James Martin
Clemente Middle School
Anna B. Day Elementary
F.S. Edmonds Elementary
Benjamin Franklin High
Harding Middle School
Juniata Park Elementary
Kensington Health Sciences Academy
Martin Luther King High
Meehan Middle School
Parkway Northwest High
Penn Treaty School
Philadelphia Virtual Academy
Theodore Roosevelt Middle School
School of the Future
South Philadelphia High
Spring Garden Elementary
Strawberry Mansion High
Swenson Arts and Technology High
The U School
The Workshop School
Wagner Middle School
George Washington High
Grover Washington Jr. Middle School
West Philadelphia High