Pennsylvania’s primary tool for grading schools—the School Performance Profile (SPP)—is being overhauled. The current SPP is not particularly straightforward, but it’s based mainly on test scores and academic growth. At the direction of Gov. Tom Wolf, the revised SPP will become more complicated, less reliant on tests, and more reliant on “holistic” measures of school success.
According to the Department of Education, here’s what we can expect from a more holistic SPP:
- Increasing the weighting of value-added measures
- Measuring English language acquisition among non-native speakers, not simply performance on a test of grade level standards
- Incentivizing career awareness instruction beginning at the elementary level
- Increasing the weighting of rigorous course offerings such as AP, IB, and “dual enrollment”
- Allowing districts to include locally-selected reading assessments and math as additional snapshots of student progress
- Awarding extra credit to schools graduating students with at least one industry recognized credential
It’s too early to know exactly how this will change the SPP’s 0-100 scale used to compare performance in buildings across the state. While some of these items may be worthwhile, the overall trend is to de-emphasize test scores, lower standards, and award credit for course offerings and credentials (to say nothing of their impact on achievement).
Wolf’s administration is following through on an earlier promise to weaken the SPP. While this may result in higher scores for Pennsylvania schools, it will do little to boost performance in the classroom.
Standardized testing is a contentious topic among parents and educators. Are tests useful? Which test should we use? How often should we test? These questions are fair game for debate and deserve thoughtful consideration. But it’s hard to imagine eliminating testing as the solution to Pennsylvania’s educational problems.
Tests provide a valuable benchmark to measure student proficiency. They provide parents with important information, and they underscore gaps in achievement between different groups of children. [Of course, to the maximum extent possible: the form, frequency, and style of testing should be determined by schools and localities—not Harrisburg or Washington.]
A better approach than Wolf’s would move Pennsylvania to an A-F school grading system. This would be easier to understand than a convoluted SPP. Already employed by over a dozen states, A-F ratings would deliver transparency and accountability—inspiring all public schools in the commonwealth to make the grade.