Pennsylvania officials on Thursday unveiled a new way to measure public schools' progress, in a further shift away from the strict accountability culture of the No Child Left Behind era.
The Future Ready PA Index evaluates schools and districts in academic performance, student progress, and college and career readiness. The prior measure, the School Performance Profile, looked at much of the same data, but the new tool places a higher priority on improvements in schools and adds some new categories for evaluation.
Previous iterations of state report cards assigned schools a score; the Future Ready measure is more nuanced, responding to complaints that a heavy reliance on standardized test scores was an unfair and imperfect way to think about schools.
"Parents, educators, and communities have said we need a better way to evaluate our schools with a broader set of measurements," Gov. Wolf said in a statement. "The Future Ready PA Index recognizes that students – and the schools that teach them – are more than just standardized tests."
The new color-coded tool breaks out the performance of different groups within a school, such as English language learners, students living in poverty, students from any given racial group — trends that may have been obscured in the past, when schools received an overall score, Matt Stem, deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education, said at a news conference.
It also provides statewide averages for comparison, and makes district-wide facts easy to access.
"Your first glance at a school's page — what you want to see is a lot of green and blue," Stem said. "If you're seeing areas of red, those should be areas that are stirring conversation."
Last year, the Wolf administration reduced the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests; with the governor's support, lawmakers recently de-emphasized the importance of the Keystone Exams that were set to become a graduation requirement for all Pennsylvania public school students.
State education officials said Thursday that the new measure is a broader reflection of how schools are performing.
"We hope everyone who goes onto the website will have a much better understanding of what's happening in a given school than they would have in the past," Stem said.
The tool, he said, "is designed to get parents and business and industry members and educators talking together and having informed conversations about what's happening in their schools."
In Philadelphia, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the new measure is in line with the district's approach, paying attention to growth and supporting needy student groups.
"I'm pleased that the state continues to improve the tools it uses to share school performance information with the public, and identify areas to best support school districts across Pennsylvania as they work to prepare students for college and career," Hite said in a statement.