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District pushing forward with Promise Academies despite limited money, data

By Benjamin Herold on May 20, 2011 02:00 PM

The School District is pushing forward with plans to add more Promise Academies despite the worst budget climate in recent memory and inconclusive data about the model’s impact on student achievement thus far.

Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman plans to invest millions of extra dollars into the District's costly internal school turnaround model, even while slashing the allocations of other schools as much as 30 percent. Those cuts and other cost-saving measures, including ending most student transportation and full-day kindergarten, are being proposed to close a projected $629 million budget gap.

The final District budget for 2011-12 is still to be decided. But under the current budget proposal, the District will spend in excess of $24 million extra at six existing and 11 new District-run Promise Academies next year. The money would go to pay teachers more for working a longer day and year and to provide $215 per student in supplemental funding. The Promise Academies would also be shielded from cuts to school budgets and possibly be exempt from any teacher layoffs, a proposal that has riled the teachers' union.

Ackerman and other senior District officials have explained their efforts to preserve funding for Promise Academies by citing a “moral obligation” to continue turning around the city’s persistently low-performing schools, arguing that maintaining the status quo at such schools is unacceptable regardless of other concerns.

"There is a group of schools that have failed our children and community for years,” said Michael Masch, the District’s chief financial officer, on WHYY’s Radio Times earlier this month. “The commitment of the School District is to turn those schools around, and even with all the problems facing the District we don’t think that is an agenda we can put off any longer.”

But given the dire budget situation forecast for the vast majority of District schools, many parents have begun asking for hard evidence that the expansion of the Promise Academy initiative is warranted.

There, the District has run into a thicket. 

Results from the all-important state PSSA exam won't be available until August, well after the budget has been finalized.

A much-anticipated study released Thursday by Research for Action does not include any other student performance data and does not break down its findings by individual schools.

"We did not set out to look at Renaissance schools in order to help the SRC make budget decisions," said James E. Lyons, chairperson of the state-mandated oversight body known as the Accountability Review Council, which commissioned the RFA report. 

And the only academic performance data that is available – preliminary benchmark test results that can be used as a rough predictor of how students will do on the state PSSA exam – has proven to be something of a political minefield. 

The so-called "predictives" do show positive trends at the existing Promise Academies, but District officials have publicly stated elsewhere that such data should not be used to make policy decisions.

Nevertheless, during an interview several weeks ago, Assistant Superintendent Francisco Duran highlighted the Promise Academies' predictive test results as significant evidence that the District was getting a solid return on its investment in the schools and should expand the model.

“To us, it’s big,” Duran said of the encouraging predictive results. “We’ve turned the corner.”

District officials, however, deemed similar data insignificant when it was cited by teachers and students trying to prevent their schools from being converted to Renaissance charters.

"The predictives are meant to guide instruction, not make decisions,” said Associate Superintendent Diane Castelbuono, who oversees the Renaissance charter schools, during an interview just days after Duran spoke with the Notebook. 

District officials say that they are not using the predictive data selectively.

“For Renaissance Schools, both charter and Promise Academies, the predictive results are one factor along with several others, including climate and culture aspects, the District considers to indicate progress,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Childs. 

Students took the actual PSSA test in March, but results won't be available until August.

According to Duran, February predictive test results for the Promise Academies pointed to potential 11 percentage point gains for students scoring proficient or advanced on state tests in reading and 14 percent in math.

In addition, said Duran, average daily attendance was up at all six Promise Academies through December 31. The number of suspensions, “serious incidents,” and 9th graders dropping out were all down dramatically at the two high schools, Vaux and University City, although the suspensions and serious incidents remained relatively flat at the four other schools.

"Over time, this type of growth is going to continue,” said Duran.

“If we didn’t invest in that way, we would see a flat line,” he added, referring to the $9.6 million extra the District invested into the six schools this year. 

In addition to expanding the Promise Academies, the District is also turning seven more schools over to outside providers under the Renaissance charter initiative. In March, the SRC voted to move forward with the process matching Renaissance schools with charter managers based in part on similarly limited data.

Predictive test results at the current Renaissance charters show the potential for modest to significant gains, depending on the school and manager. At all three elementary schools now run by Mastery Charter, for example, the results show potential double-digit proficiency gains across all tested grades in both reading and math. At the two elementary schools now run by Universal Companies, on the other hand, progress has varied considerably from grade to grade. 

School climate data showed that average daily attendance was up at six of the seven Renaissance charters, while the number of reported serious incidents was down dramatically across all the schools.

Castelbuono said that she found overall trends encouraging, but she was measured in evaluating the utility of the predictive test results in forecasting future gains.

“It’s very hard within the first six months to say test scores are going to skyrocket through the roof. You can’t say that with any certainty,” she said.

Castelbuono’s caution is more in line with what most educators say is the appropriate use of predictive benchmark exams.

The more cautious approach came in response to questions about the efforts of teachers, students, and parents to stave off the planned charter conversions of their schools by citing positive predictive data. 

Parents and community members on the School Advisory Council at Olney West High School, for example, pointed to February predictive results that show potential proficiency gains of more than 10 percentage points in reading and 17 percentage points in math.

“Significant academic improvement is under way,” wrote the SAC in its recommendation to the District that Olney West not be turned over to an outside provider. 

District leaders dismissed the claim, saying the improvement was not fast enough and did not account for a long history of low performance at the school.

At Audenried High, meanwhile, students and staff argued that predictive test results showed dramatic growth in the three years since the school was reopened, results dismissed by District officials.

”The predictives are nice but not sufficient,” said Castelbuono. “We would never [decide to turn around] a school based on [predictive] data or one year's worth of data.”

The District's current budget proposal calls for $24 million for Promise Academies. District officials have not yet released their projection for how much that figure is expected to grow now that the 1,100 student Martin Luther King High is slated to join their ranks after originally being set for a charter conversion.  

This story is the product of a news partnership between the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks. Timothy Boyle, a science teacher at Olney Elementary and a regular Notebook blogger, also contributed to this article. He helped analyze and interpret the Renaissance data recently made available by the District and Renaissance providers.

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Comments (105)

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 2:13 pm

Schools will get initial PSSA data in early June. It won't be released to the public until August or September. But, we will know in a few weeks individual student results. Can we trust the results of the tests? (e.g. Roosevelt Middle School) Attendance data is also easy to manipulate. I worked at a Kensington school where the principal directed the secretary to mark numerous students present to maintain attendance. So, who knows if the data is valid.

That said, the SDP / Ackerman Administration uses whatever data is wants when labeling a school. I assume the decision about which schools to turn over to charters, such as Audenreid, were made regardless of data. The decision to keep funding Promise Academies is also suspect. Ackerman used this model in San Francisco and it bombed. She is keeping it at the expense of full day kindergarten and transportation which we know is essential.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 5:37 pm

The Queen know the Kindergarten issue won't happen. Yes, the fix as in money was in for Audenreid and that great "Provider", Kenny Gamble--what a farce !!! Promise Academies are a joke but much better than charters which are the biggest rip off this side of Vouchers.

Submitted by Robin (not verified) on May 20, 2011 8:56 pm

You manipulate any data, indeed. Serious incidents can be "ignored" i.e. not reported - happens all the time. The Inquirer did a while series about school violence recently which illustrated this.

This whole administration is sickening. When is someone going to take a stand?! When are you teachers in Philadelphia going to grow some?

Submitted by Christina (not verified) on May 20, 2011 3:47 pm

RIght, anonymous. PSSA data, attendance data, etc. can tell anybody's story. Looking at student writing over time, or problem solving, or science work, or oral language... That would tell a very full, very complex story. But that would be investing in people, and in professional developement, not scripts and test companies.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 20, 2011 3:28 pm

You are speaking of legitimate "performane assessmet." Now who do you think in the district leadership understands performance assessment?

The PSSA scores are certainly not valid and reliable measurements of reading ability and probably not math either.

Attendance figures have never been accurate. Drop out rates are not accurate because students regularly withdraw and re-enter somewhere else in the world.

Is there a yardstick of the level of dishonesty of the school district and Department of Education officials?

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 20, 2011 4:53 pm

I apologize for the typos above. My secretary left for the day. Please don't cut secretaries. I really do know to spell "performance assessment." I even know what it is....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 5:47 pm

Yes, the yardstick approves that Charter at 3800 n. Broad Street receiving awards from the state for unbelievable scores on the PSSA. Of course, the state people had to know the truth but proceeded to play the game anyway to keep the POLS happy. We're all in trouble if this doesn't stop, especially in charters who have built in protections to hide and wing and nod. Do you really think the state folks who presumably are smart people didn't see through those farcical scores immediately and do you really think Ackerman and her people were fooled too???? PLEASE !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 7:16 pm

I agree totally.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on May 20, 2011 4:41 pm

But we rarely look at the growth of a child over time. They use the data to compare how the teacher is doing - comparing this year's kids' scores to next and last. That is so wrong.
The way you are suggesting data be studied makes more sense - which is probably why we do not do it.
I should be held accountable to make sure that every child who hit advanced and proficient last year did it this year, with a few basic kids joining them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 5:30 pm

Yes, education has become teaching to the test 24/7. A giant scam which, makes insiders happy and rich but prepares the kids for nothing in the real world.

Submitted by Mark (not verified) on May 20, 2011 8:05 pm

The predictive tests are FANTASTIC because they allow Acuity and McGraw-Hill to make lots and lots of money! That's why I love the assessments! Otherwise, they're stressful to students and teachers, and take up instructional time...more time testing that should be spent teaching and learning. However, the moral administration already knows this...
Another absurdity about the predictive assessment is that it is ALL multiple choice - no open-ended that assesses constructed responses. So it is not a true measure AT ALL of how students would do during the PSSA.
I'm so happy that the private sector continues to make money while a billion dollars has been slashed from education. My only worry is that there could be less customers if parents put their children in private schools i.e. starting kindergarten and then continuing the rest of their education there. How will the testing companies make money!?!?!?! :-(

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 8:11 pm

Don't forget that the predictive / Acuity test is given repeatedly. The students take the exact same, multiple choice test over and over again. Can't imagine why the results are so predictive!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 8:41 pm

Yes, hard to believe, Harry. The truth is that the inner city population is deprived and has been for a long time. Drugs and general dysfunction have destroyed families. The kids are furious, frustrated and depressed and so would we be under the same circumstances. Time will heal this problem but it won't be soon.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 8:02 pm

I feel for them too. I'm sure people will stop this farce sooner rather than later, I hope.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 9:31 pm

Yes, these Predictive tests make so much sense, especially in late May. I can't wait to give them next week. What are we predicting now that we have already taken the PSSA? What a waste of time, money, and an education!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 9:22 pm

I agree--just a bad, expensive joke.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 9:03 am

I totally agree...As I see all this testing and teaching to it has produce non-thinking, poor problem solving students who will not be the type of citizen needed in today's society. This test driven curriculum absolutely dumbs down not only concepts but methods of learning. Students' minds are not allowed to go beyond what's not on the test and that is sad. Going beyond and in depth is where the real learning takes place. If this farce is allowed to continue, Philadelphia will be the dumbest city in the country, if not the world.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 3:22 pm

The District has a moral obligation to educate all of its children well. Not just those attending Promise Academies and charter schools. Therefore, all schools should be provided equitable funding without reservation. What this District is doing is analogous to parents playing favorites with their children. One child is born normal, the other with a disability. The child with a disability is showered with material possessions, love, and affection from the parents, because they feel morally obligated to do so. Meanwhile, the normal child is "feeling some type of way", because the parents have neglected to provide him/her with an equitable amount of care and attention. What usually happens in this case is that the normal child seeks attention by acting out or acquires physical and psychological abnormalities that impede normal growth and development. This family eventually becomes totally dysfunctional and both children end up being harmed. Hopefully, before this happens at least one parent regains their senses and realizes that all of their children are special and deserve an equal amount of love, care, and attention.

The Promise Academies and charter schools create division in the public school family. This three tier system will eventually cost taxpayers more money than it would to provide an equitable distribution of funding to all public schools and maintain a one tier public school system where every school in everyPhiladelphia neighborhood is a GREAT school for kids. Equitable funding for all of Philadelphia's children is NOT immoral. What is immoral is this notion of "robbing Paul to pay Peter" so that Promise Academies thrive, and this immorality must be challenged. Parents wake up, this is your fight.

Submitted by parent of 2 students in NE Philadelphia Schools (not verified) on May 20, 2011 4:32 pm

I completely agree. Where is the "promise" for all students, and not just for some? This my question at the recent budget meeting at FitzPatrick this past Monday. And of course, I received no answer. It is completely unfair to take funds away from some, but not all. It's bad enough their is such a disfairness between the public schools and charter schools as far as cuts in transportation and kindergarten. I asked Mr. Masch where was any strong evidence that proves these Promise Academies, aka Dr. Ackerman's "pet projects", were worth the extra millions of dollars used to run them. I then proceeded to mention that the evidence which proved kindergarten in such an important part of a child's education is there....and it's been around a lot longer!!!! Again, no response! All students in our schools should be treated equally, regardless of what school they attend. Maybe the District should take another look at why these particular schools are failing......... parents are a child's first teacher, so maybe the problem stems from home!!!! I wrote the School District about the budget meeting, and the outrage felt among myself, as well as many other parents, about how the District can still fund these academies and not think twice about cutting full-day kindergarten and transportation. Once again, I got no specific answer.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 20, 2011 4:35 pm

It is so nice to hear someone else speak of the "moral obligation" of leadership. Yes, there is a moral obligation of school leaders to fund every school adequately. It starts with the Mayor, the Governor, the SRC, the Superintendent and the Secretary of Education. Politicians need to stop playing their power games and their money games at the expense of our school children.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 5:50 pm

Moral Obligation -------Are you serious?? Nutter and the Queen have shown their colors and Corbett is repulsed and disgusted by inner city persons. This isn't Thomas Aquinas we're speaking about here. Your post is almost unreadable it is so silly. The abuse won't stop until WE as in people stop it and likely by force, yes, by force. They don't care a rats behind about morality so stop pontificating and being the Master of the OBVIOUS. They don't care about moral obligations---It's all about money, first, last and only and in my opinion, our leader, Jerry Jordan may be in the Queen's pocket and if not, he behaves like Fog Horn Leg Horn---Always shocked, did I say shocked??? He's an empty suit in an empty car. Tell me what I'm missing here.

Submitted by Mark (not verified) on May 20, 2011 8:42 pm

You're not missing a thing, other than submitting your name. You nailed it. Alliteration: Jerry Jordan is a joke.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 22, 2011 10:06 am

Your union is a Joke, that's why a clown leads your union.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 22, 2011 11:27 am

Dave---You may well be right. All unions need to stand together in this unusual time of need. Read "First They Came."
Dave--if you aren't in a union, try to get into one and if you can't, don't hold that against unions. Unions protect people against Corporations and that's the simple fact of the matter.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 22, 2011 9:38 pm

The Dave who wrote the derogatory comment about the union is not the same Dave who wrote about the moral obligation to fund our schools. I am the Dave who wrote about the moral obligation above. I don't know where that Dave came from but please do not confuse him with me.

I am retired and was in the PFT for 25 years and CASA for ten. I actually went on strike back in the day when we actually stood up for ourselves and each other -- And the Kids. So did Jerry Jordan go on strike. Actually he was a strike leader.

I don't know whether the union is a joke or soft or whatever. But I do know that you better get yourselves together or you are going to get your behinds kicked from one end of Broad Street to the other. Has anyone who has criticized Jerry actually go on strike before? He did.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 8:35 am

Dave------I totally agree with you 100%, except where Jordan is concerned and even there I defer to your frame of reference which is far more expansive than mine. He just seems afraid of the Queen. I hope you're right.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 8:35 am

Dave------I totally agree with you 100%, except where Jordan is concerned and even there I defer to your frame of reference which is far more expansive than mine. He just seems afraid of the Queen. I hope you're right.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 8:36 am

Dave------I totally agree with you 100%, except where Jordan is concerned and even there I defer to your frame of reference which is far more expansive than mine. He just seems afraid of the Queen. I hope you're right.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on May 23, 2011 9:45 am

I hope Jerry does have the courage to stand up to Dr. Ackerman, too. Both by initiating legal attacks on her actions and the constitutionality of the school takeover law itself. And of course, job actions and need be -- a strike. There are also unfair labor practice complaints that could possibly be filed.

But the last thing Philadelphia's school children need and the total school community needs is a war between the adults and the descent into toxicity that it will cause.

If that happens, the anomosity will linger for years and it will destroy the "community of our schools" which is necessary for Great schools to emerge.

It is time for us all to stand up and say enough of this crap -- stop the BS and just fund the schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 4:35 pm

I agree but as usual, the Pols are trying yet another way to get out of funding the poor kids in urban ed. This is what Charters and Vouchers are all about. Only the have nots in a big way will be going to traditional public schools. Everybody else will be in good shape under the pretext of fixing education. This is a very bad time for the USA and we have ourselves to thank for it by electing these Tea Party Repubs who have no compassion nor sensitivity for the poor and the problems of the poor---NONE !! I hope this will teach us a much needed lesson, one that we shall never make again.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 7:04 pm

YIKES------Morality has nothing to do with any of this. It's about money for these politician types like Ackerman. Charters are a farce and we all know it but it doesn't matter because they make skim money for the pols. NONE of this is going to change until WITH FORCE, we stop them. Marching and singing ain't goin to git it with these folks. Bullies ignore morality and such. Malice and screaming in their faces with bad intent is the way to go --the only way. All unions need to fight this wave of anti union crap and we need to do it now.

Submitted by Teachmyway (not verified) on May 22, 2011 1:08 am

I am a parent and a public school teacher I willing to go to court for my children! And all of the children in this city. My children test well the school they makes AYP but why should they loose their art teacher, why should their classes grow to 33 and promos academy student get private school numbers. Why should teachers in schools that perform well be laid off and promise academy teachers don't ??? Any other parents with me?? Parents stand up

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on May 20, 2011 4:42 pm

Remember this bumber sticker:
Wouldn't it be nice if we held bake sales for tanks instead of text books?

Submitted by teachmyway (not verified) on May 20, 2011 7:53 pm

Remember in San Francisco, the Dream schools that was Dr. Ackerman's vision? the school board terminated her contract, it was entirely too costly, now she is suing for early termination of a contract she brings that same dream here, but the powers that be in Philadelphia aren't strong enough to make the same smart leadership decisions that the leadership did in SF, ie. our current mayor Mr. Nutter and the SRC, oh yeah the SRC has people on it that are also vying for the publics money for their own self good or their friends own self good, ie, Mr. Archie

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 7:42 pm

Yes, it is all a scam and Corbett better send a giant Thank You note to Ackerman for doing his bidding for him. Of course, he will swat her aside when he smashes the city schools apart under the pretext of fixing them but by then, the Queen and all her friends will be set for life. The kids will be doomed but that's Corbett's plan too. So all is well for the Queen and isn't that what really counts anyway?
Yes, San Fran saw the light and gave her the boot but we have Nutter who is an empty suit at best.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 20, 2011 7:43 pm

I read this article with interest. Perhaps the Dr. Ackerman should consider the quality of the administrators she is putting in charge of these schools. I know of one middle school in particular where the principal and his cronies spend most of their time bullying the teachers and demanding ridiculous outcomes from students that cannot possibly perform at that level and from teachers who have to deal with both academic and behavioral issues. In the end the administrators blame the teachers, many of whom are working well over the 40 - 50 hour work week. What is interesting to me is that no one seems to care about what is going on in the building. Teachers are beginning to "jump ship" and I have to tell you I can't help but wonder where the "promise" is for the building. The fact that an administrative staff would be willing to throw teachers under the bus to feed their own egos, is appalling. I urge every teacher to read their contracts carefully. If your building administrator is not following the contract, then please go to your union. If you need to go further. This is not in anyone's best interest - not yours and equally important your students.
I have long felt that public education was doomed as long as we continued to hire administrators who refused to park their egos at the door of their buildings. Sadly, this is coming to pass. I hope the people of Philadelphia are starting to wake up and demand accountability and truthfulness from these so-called leaders. All the promises in the world can't change the facts: students with learning disabilities and emotional disabilities, coupled with a low income environment call for strong teachers, decent administrators and a strong commitment on the part of the parents. It truly does take a village to raise a child. These administrators who may want to try to convince the people of Philadelphia otherwise, are doing the people of Philadelphia and most importantly the children of Philadelphia a great disservice.
I continue to believe that there are good administrators out there. I just wonder where they are.

Submitted by Stop Using Kids As Pawns (not verified) on May 20, 2011 10:21 pm

Dear Notebook,

When might you actually look into some of these very legitimate claims? When do you protest the discrimination against the majority of Philly students so that Arlene Ackerman can rack up political points by using the Promise Academy kids as pawns and by skewing the data to make it appear much more "promising" than they actually are? When do you stand up for the children you claim to represent through your publication? And when do the reporters/editorial staff from Philadelphia Newspapers do the same?

Is there no one in a position to do so willing to stand up for the children of this city?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 6:58 am

This could very well be the downfall of our country. It was Thomas Jefferson who said that public education is the cornerstone of our American democracy. Publicly owned and funded schools are consistent with equality of opportunity as espoused in our founding documents. Thomas Jefferson believed public education would help sustain democracy by bringing all people together to share values and learn a common history.

Attitudes among leading educators and civic leaders in America came to the Jeffersonian View as public schools became the place children are taught citizenship and how to become successful members of a democratic society. In the absence of an educated society, in which there are haves and have nots, our society is doomed.

A true democracy can't be sustained without an educated populace. A true democracy requires independent thought, a capability for critical and analytical thinking---and it is these that the powers to be wish to restrict to a certain class of people. Who will speak for the right of individuals to learn to think for themselves and not in line with some specific agenda under the programming of the elite?

Federal involvement in education imposes many regulations and increased costs (such as testing for NCLB legislation) on local public schools. How is it that Pennsylvania and Philadelphia can dictate without public input? Education means one thing to those who wield power and something entirely different to the masses. Ordinary people get a minimal education due to underfunding and the undermining of public education. Access to college is also restricted. Meanwhile, the elite can afford the best.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 21, 2011 8:09 am

You should read the book, "Whose School Is It? the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools." My friend and colleague wrote it. He explains and cites the law on school governance and the research on the best practices in leadership. He is both an educator and a lawyer who taught with me for 20 years at University City H.S. and was an administrator. He is a really good guy.

His belief is that schools and school systems need to be governed and led democratically. He says that democracy is the "sine qua non" for the collegial endeavor necessary to make schools Great. He points to the fact that the least effective schools and school systems are the ones that are governed the least democratically. He states uneqivocally that the only way to govern schools for the best interests of the students is to govern them democratically.

He also discusses the research studies and books on leadership that show that democratic, collegial, inclusive leadership yields the best results. He makes the case pretty persuasively.

I will make him read your post. It is really really good. I believe in public education and Thomas Jefferson was a really smart guy.

Submitted by Chaos is Winning (not verified) on May 21, 2011 12:39 pm

"Civilization is a race between education and chaos." - H.G. Wells.

Submitted by Rich (not verified) on May 21, 2011 1:46 pm

May I quote you? Whoever it is that wrote that awesome post about the "Jeffersonian View" It is one of the best and most eloquent posts I have read and you have nailed it. I can use it to win the battle of ideas and help make life better for everyone in our community.

There have been many intelligent and poignant posts on the Notebook site recently. I would just hope that we keep a high standard of intellectualism, integrity, and professionalism in these conversations. Everyone's voice needs to be heard and listened to if we are to become a true learning community.

That is just one element of the imperative of democracy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 9:16 am

Blah, blah, blah----------------------I agree with you and your friend totally but guess what???You and he are Masters of the Obvious. Who doesn't know that?? The problem is that people in general, don't care about the inner city people for a second and folks like Corbett are thrilled that Ackerman etc. are lining their pockets on the backs of the kids Corbett despises anyway. He will us her abuse as a pretext for finishing off the schools in the city as his attempt to fix the problems left by the queen. WE need to stop pontificating about what should be and grow a collective pair and go to Harrisburg with real bad intentions and malice dripping from our hearts. If WE don't win this Class War--and that's exactly what it is, we're all doomed/ Warren Buffet recently said," Yes, there is class warfare going on and my class, the rich, are winning it." Any more questions? Bullies only stop when you make them--as in force and I'm 100% in. I'm an older person and I NEVER thought I would EVER see crap like this again in my lifetime.Younger folks out there--get a grip---this is the end of unions and reasonable wages for people if these slimy types have their way. Grow a Pair !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 2:57 pm

I don't care how much money Arlene makes as long as she doesn't care how much I make. By trying to bust the union, she'ssaying she's entitled to her money while I who make 1/4 of what she makes am not entitled to mine. PLEASE !!!! Stop with the hypocrisy already !!

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 21, 2011 6:59 pm

Given the District's statements, I am unsure why we continue to give Predictive exams that are both costly and disruptive to the curriculum if the data they provide is sharply limited in value. What exactly is the benefit of the tests?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 7:58 pm

Benefits to Kids----Please be serious. It has nothing to do with kids except for making, actually skimming money from their backs. This is Urban Education so who cares about the kids. Isn't it odd that 95% of the charters are in the inner cities. Can you say carpetbaggers??

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on May 21, 2011 10:29 pm

Out of curiosity - for those of you who are teachers, how are the predictive tests  actually used in your schools?  My understanding is that they are primarily supposed to be used to help identify areas where students are weak so extra instruction/remediation can be targeted accordingly.  Is that accurate?  Is that what actually happens?

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 10:41 pm

Your describing how benchmark tests are to be used. Predictive are to "predict" PSSA performance. As far as I know, they are used for nothing other than another set of "data." They had to be used in the annual "Action Plan" since we don't have PSSA data but had to turn the plan in by April 25.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 21, 2011 10:45 pm

That's "You're"... Remember, the SAME predictive test is given to students each time it is administered. So, the exact same test is given in October, February and May. Students pick up on this very quickly and ask why they are taking the SAME test. The benchmark tests are based on the skills that are suppose to be covered during the benchmark window. I have never heard a reason for the predictive tests other than to indicate how students might do on the PSSA. (This is also data provided by Achieve 3000 - the accuracy is another issue). I've also been told the predictive is required for federal funding but that must be new since we have only given the predictive for a couple of years. (The predictive don't mimic the PSSA - there are no open ended / constructed response and the passages are shorter and dated compared to the PSSA).

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 22, 2011 12:02 am

You are right, Predictive tests only began in the 2009-2010 school year. The previous year we gave 4 Benchmark exams and no Predictive tests. Now we give 3 of each and we spend a great deal more time on testing.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on May 21, 2011 10:18 pm

Yes, Ben, you are describing Benchmarks. Benchmarks can (and are in many schools) be used to give very specific data on what skills a student or student group need to work on. If they were aligned better with the curriculum and had a little more teacher input into the types of questions, I do not think they would be a bad thing. Predictives are exceedingly stupid because it is the EXACT SAME multiple choice test given three times per year. After taking it the first time, the data is essentially useless. They also (like benchmarks) probably cost too much money in this budget climate.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on May 21, 2011 11:06 pm

OK, so two questions: 

1) The formal names of the predictive exams are the 4sight and the Acuity, correct? Any others?

2) Can folks walk me through what actually happens with the tests at your school?  Especially interested in what happens after you get the results back.  How have you been told you are supposed to use them?  How do you actually use them?



Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 22, 2011 12:02 am

There are 6 District tests given over the course of the year: 3 benchmarks, which are ostensibly aligned with the Planning and Scheduling Timeline and 3 Predictive exams. The Benchmark is about a particular set of skills that are taught over a set time period. When the Benchmark results are returned, the teachers and students review the test and answers to identify top 3 strengths and the 3 areas of greatest weakness. Teachers then fill out paperwork to turn in to the principal that indicates which skills need reteaching and how they will be retaught. Teachers with particularly high scores for a certain skill then conference in common planning about how they taught a particular skill or teach professional development. Students review their answers because the questions will not be repeated again and they identify their own goals for the upcoming months until the next test. This is ideally how the data is used.

The Predictives are different and there is no teacher data sheet or student reflection done because the test is meant to predict how students are progressing toward the PSSA and so the material covers the whole curriculum, even skills that have not been taught yet. The same test is given at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the year. Since students are seeing the same set of skills, the scores should show progression over the year as they learn more of the PSSA eligible content.

The way that the district reports on the benchmarks and the Predictives is different as well. For the benchmarks, the data on schoolnet show the average percentage score on the test for individual students, a class, a teacher, a grade, or the whole school while the data for the Predictives is shown as the percent of students predicted to score proficient or advanced on the PSSA.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 22, 2011 8:32 am

You've described a very ideal situation. While we us Common Planning Time to look at the data, what is done next often is up to the teacher. Looking at the data is also complicated because we often have student score high and low on a particular skill. (e.g. two questions based on the same skill but very different overall student results.) I think the benchmark can be looked at the same way I have students prepare for AP multiple choice tests - what can we learn about how the questions are structured in order to improve our chances of selecting a correct response? Sometimes the answers on the benchmark are obvious but there are often two very close choices - at least on the reading test.

The predictive, as other have written, are just more "data." I think the Study Island "predictive" are probably more accurate in relation to the PSSA.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on May 22, 2011 10:33 am

You are right, the reading test often has two answers that are very similar--one might even say both could be correct. However, since the tests are corrected by computer, only one answer is correct. I, too, (and other teachers at my school) use these instances to talk about how to eliminate certain answers and other test taking strategies. I do not totally disagree with the idea of benchmarks, but I think teachers and other instructional leaders need to be more involved in the test generation than they currently are. Hope and others are correct: sometimes the test is testing motivation and not skills--if a student got a 70 or 80 percent six weeks ago, it is unlikely that the 20 percent they got the next time is truly a reflection of skills or knowledge. We do use benchmark score data to reteach at my K-8 school, but predictives--no. They are useless--a moneymaker for someone, that's all.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 22, 2011 12:26 am

I am lucky enough to be at a school where these tests are treated like the worthless paperwork they are. Strange that the children are mandated to complete this worthless paperwork, but in this instance they have to share the pain with the teachers.

NOBODY takes these seriously. In most cases, students are unable to complete them. I know this is heartbreaking, but seriously. Once a year we have to push and push to make students complete (and I don't mean cheating-- I mean convince students to open the stupid booklet at all) the PSSAs and we just can't waste that energy getting them to complete these worthless tests.

There's no security. If we we interested, we could get the kids to memorize the answers. But we don't. Because why bother? We can do informal and formal assessments of learning way better than whoever makes these tests. It shouldn't inform any teacher of how students are doing in ways they don't already know. I recently begged a student to just fill in the bubbles without looking at the questions, my kids are so sick of testing they are frankly refusing to do anymore.

I don't blame them. It feels like March-June is test time at school. If you didn't teach it before March, good luck to you. Not that I don't try. Schedule disruptions and lost days from testing make it harder than usual. We're told that we're supposed to want to teach a rock to read. Well, I would like the time.

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 22, 2011 1:59 am

I feel like a used-car salesperson every time we take a test. I make every pitch in the book because since the time is allotted and I don't want it to be wasted. The biggest frustration I feel when doing data analysis is when I have a student score 10% when they have previously scored 75% and above. Then the score is just a reflection of motivation and not of academic achievement.

Sometimes the best part of the review is talking about some of the more poorly written questions and hearing how students thought through certain questions. We make a PDF of the test after we get the results back and go through it because the students want to know what they got wrong. One benefit of having the students review their answers is that it invests them in looking at data to chart improvement or to inspire goal-setting. This usually means that they are more willing to take the test seriously, which is necessary if the test is to have any value. While I am skeptical that the testing companies actually make a better test than perhaps a team of professional teacher-leaders, I think that there are still ways to see the glass as half-full and use the test to inform practice.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 22, 2011 10:01 am

I do agree that it should be seen as a glass half full, however, I would like a test that doesn't just frustrate my students. We are very low-performing on the PSSAs, something like 25% proficient, and many of my students just stare in confusion at the questions. I would like a test that is on-level, that is actually measuring progress. We are all trying desperately to get them caught up, but so many are more than a few grade levels behind. It is rough to tell a kid working on multiplication that they've made a ton of progress (because they weren't even getting the concept a couple months ago) and then give them a test with algebra on it that does nothing but remind them how below grade level they are.

A useful test would be individualized to each student and actually mark progress. It could still be mass-produced, but instead of given by grade level it could be given by ability level, increasing as the student does. There's no sense giving someone with a 3rd grade reading level a test meant for a 12th grader. What could actually inform my practice would be a test at the 4th grade level or so for that student.

In the month of March, some of my students took 4 standardized tests. It felt less like used car salesman and more like snake oil salesman.

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on May 22, 2011 4:55 pm

WHY are so many students "more than a few grade levels behind?" Because they have been promoted when clearly, they should not have been promoted. This needs to stop. I have plenty of high school students on a 5th grade math level (and I teach at a "good" school). We need to STOP educating kids by age and start educating them according to their needs. The first time a kid scores "below basic" on one of these tests (which everyone knows are basic tests anyway), they should be held back in that subject until they are ready to move on. Elementary and middle schools could be slightly restructured so that students were with their subject-level peers for math each day. Teachers could truly remediate skills for students that need it. Don't blame it on teachers and expect us to differentiate students in 5 or more grade levels in the same room. Common sense says kids will thrive only when material is suited for them--promoting those students that are not ready is not helping them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 24, 2011 8:10 am

We TRY to keep them back, but if they attend summer school every day, they are promoted, regardless of performance.

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on May 24, 2011 7:56 pm

(original poster says): Yes, I understand that this is a huge problem. Even when teachers say that kids deserve to fail, summer school gets them a a pass. When pointing out promotion as a problem, I wasn't blaming teachers--I was pointing out an institutional failure. Sometimes it is teachers who cave to pressure or just boost up student grades a bit, but more often it is the district policy of summer school that is the problem.

Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on May 24, 2011 10:47 am

This discussion about testing is frustrating because it illustrates how little we have our eye on the ball. These schools are testing factories, regardless of who runs them. There is not one word about learning in this discussion, not one word about pedagogical reform, not one word about preparing students for college. "Better" tests are not the solution. The very questionable Euro-centric belief that learning can be quantified remains unquestioned n this discussion. We really need to start talking about what kind of education we are offering students. We need to think about culturally appropriate methods and content. We need to help kids develop healthy intellectual self-respect be helping them demonstrate what they have learned. Audre Lorde: You cannot dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

Submitted by retired veteran Phila. teacher (not verified) on May 25, 2011 12:23 pm

Right, Geoffrey, the testing itself is the problem, regardless of which publisher, which test, which schedule. Valuing students and learning for the scores they produce -- that's at the root of the destruction of eduction in Philadelphia (and across the country.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 22, 2011 8:42 am

4sight is produced by Success for All and Acuity by McGraw Hill. I don't know of any others used in Pennsylvania but I'm sure there are other predictive tests. When I've met teachers from other PA districts at conferences, if predictive tests are used, 4sight seems to be more popular.

Submitted by Chaos is Winning (not verified) on May 22, 2011 9:55 am

No, the benchmarks are used to identify areas where children need additional support and there used to be time built into the curriculum to address those needs on a more individualized basis. Teacher-made tests do the same thing more effectively.

The predictives are specifically to predict how a child will perform on the PSSA. That's it. It's a "will this kid help us or hurt us?" test - the exact same questions each time so anyone would show some improvement without it being remotely meaningful.

Add the benchmarks (three tests every six weeks) plus the predictives (two tests three times a year) and figure out how much instructional time is lost.

These tests are about politics and money, not children.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on May 23, 2011 4:24 pm

Up until last june we had an educational team at my site thta used this data for instruction. Teachers were encouraged to review scores fromt heir classes and improve their own areas of weakness and study individual test scores for instructional planning. We worked with each group of children to strengthen their weaknesses throgh the use of their individual strengths. We studied the data as teams and worked together to improve things. We made AYP most often.
Now, we are empowerment and have no room in the scheduling guidelines to do any of this.
It sucks.

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 22, 2011 12:24 am

I agree with another critique made on this page saying that as the predictives contain no constructed response prompts, they cannot give a very accurate prediction as to how students will perform on the PSSA's. The District addresses this by mandating months of weekly constructed response prompts that 11th grade teachers had to give to all students, the grade, track by student, and return to the AD-1 office. I am not sure of the efficacy of the predictive tests in actually predicting PSSA performance given that this year is the first time my students have taken the PSSA and we won't get the data until June 10th.

So the District can argue that the tests have limited value--thus negating a large part of Audenried's argument against takeover while also protecting the Promise Academies initiative whose high schools performs rather poorly in comparison with Audenried on the Predictives--but then it needs to explain why we give the tests at all.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 22, 2011 8:00 am

The weekly (December - March) constructed response were for Empowerment Schools. They came out of Wayman's office. Many of the samples had inadequate or "off" prompts which had to be rewritten. Some of the passages were very short - compared to the PSSA - when reading stamina is one issue why students don't do as well on the reading component of the PSSA. (So, we were told to have "sustained silent reading" in social studies... I guess Wayman wanted students to read the textbook during class time... another example of Wayman demonstrating no understanding of appropriate pedagogy in high schools). There were also required math constructed responses. Neither the reading nor math required constructed responses were aligned at all with the skills in the Planning and Scheduling Timelines (curriculum). Instead of relying on the Teaching and Learning (curriculum) office to produce test review, Wayman used her office and produced, as usual, inadequate and faulty materials.

Also, empowerment high schools had been required by November to develop a constructed response plan for our schools and turn it in to Wayman's office. So, we had our own plans - which were detailed and often involved all content areas - and were told to shove Wayman's constructed responses into English III and Algebra II classes. This meant those classes could not follow the Planning and Scheduling Timelines which are supposedly aligned with the PSSA skills. (Also, since social studies and science classes had to use Achieve 3000 - an on-line reading program - 2 days per week, with added constructed response created by the school, there was no way for teachers to keep up with the Planning and Scheduling Timelines).

This year, with Wayman heading high schools, was the most obvious demonstration of the power struggle at 440 N. Broad. Each office (AD -1/ High School, Empowerment, OSS, Teaching and Learning, ETC.) were competing for which programs would get enforced. Usually Wayman (AD-1) won to the detriment of any teaching and learning that happened in Empowerment schools. (I'm sure non-empowerment schools did not have to jump through any hoops for Wayman - including administrators. )

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 22, 2011 11:08 am

Yes, the CR's were only for Empowerment schools. Some of the constructed responses came from the California test and some elsewhere but I know that at least a few were from previous PSSA's because some of my students told me that they had already read one of the prompts on this year's test. I only had half a week to teach the actual curriculum for those four months given all the test-prep that AD-1 sent out.

Submitted by youngphillyteacher (not verified) on May 22, 2011 2:47 pm

Oh, now it makes sense. I was wondering, how can the district expect us to fit everything into schedule:(CR, PSSA prep, Achieve 3000 etc) and still follow Planning and Scheduling timeline? Turns out, these are different departments' pet programs pushed on us.

Submitted by Sanity N. Reason (not verified) on May 21, 2011 7:13 pm

Ackerman's San Francisco "Dream School" plans failed miserably. The "Promise School" plan in Philadelphia is just the same recycled crap that she pulled out of her tattered carpet bag. It's a hyped-up overinflated grandiose set of five-year measures that is akin to wares peddled by a traveling medicine show's snake-oil salesman. Carpet baggers such as Ackerman and Vallas are slick enough to know that they will be gone by the time the five years of the five year plan are up. In the meantime, they bamboozled the School District into approving a contract with a hefty early exit clause. When we got rid of Vallas the news media sharply criticized all of the excessive money that Vallas was paid. So in turn, the SRC approved a LARGER compensation for Arlene Ackerman with all of these secret performance bonus'. In San Francisco, once they caught-on to the queen's scam, they had to fight to get rid of her at a cost of $350K. Right now, Ackerman deferred her $100K Bonus, she did not refuse it. Her Philadelphia contract has been more expensive than her San Francisco contract so far, so it is very likely - as obscene as it is- that she will collect an exit fee of greater than $500K. Excuse me while I throw-up.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 22, 2011 12:18 am

It's especially disgusting because she doesn't deserve a dime of it.

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on May 22, 2011 4:22 pm

Let's continue providing money for Promise Academy Saturday school that fewer than half of the students attend (they say it is mandatory but it does not count on school attendance or towards truancy court).

Let's continue funding a summer school program that everyone knows is a complete joke. Not to mention Summer school at Promise Academies--where attendance will also be sparse I'm sure.

Meanwhile, we can cut schools that ARE succeeding and programs that ARE proven (full day kindergarten).

Moral imperative? Spare me. I'd just love to see some common sense.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 11:20 am

Several posts have included incorrect information about the Acuity Predictive tests.

1. The tests are NOT identical each time. About 1/3 of the items are identical from test 1 to 2, and then a different set of items are repeated from test 2 to 3, but 2/3 of the items on each test are unique.

2. The Predictive tests have three purposes. The most obvious, but arguably the least important, is to predict performance on the PSSA. The tests are also designed to show growth over time by testing the same skills each time and by increasing in difficulty. (e.g. What would a student know about these skills at the beginning, middle, and end of the year?) The final, and most important, purpose is to inform instruction by showing students' strengths and weakness on the skills that were tested. The Predictives test skills that the PSSA tests, so even though they are not aligned to the Planning and Scheduling Timeline, they do provide information about students' knowledge on the PSSA skills and how that knowledge changes during the year.

3. The article incorrectly states that Renaissance schools take the Predictives. Unless they have independently contracted with McGraw-Hill to purchase the tests, they are not taking them. The District does not provide Predictive tests to the Renaissance schools.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 1:03 pm

Is this a promo from McGraw Hill? They must have a different sent of tests....

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 23, 2011 2:47 pm

I did not know that only certain portions were repeated. We aren't asked to analyze the individual scores for the predictive test, only for the benchmarks. Because we do not get to keep copies of the tests, I've not been able to compare them side by side but I have recognized certain passages repeated while I have been administering the test. In the PD given at the beginning of last year though, I was told that it was the same test given three times. Since it was before we ever gave the predictive test, perhaps this was just a mistake.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 2:09 pm

I think it is a common misunderstanding that the tests are exactly the same each time. Since tests are supposed to be returned and the items aren't available on Schoolnet, it isn't easy to do a comparison of all of the items on the test. I was at a PD were the presenter from 440 clarified that some items are repeated from one test to the next, but not all items.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on May 23, 2011 3:35 pm

Re: "3. The article incorrectly states that Renaissance schools take the Predictives. Unless they have independently contracted with McGraw-Hill to purchase the tests, they are not taking them. The District does not provide Predictive tests to the Renaissance schools."

The District's four current Renaissance charter operators all use some version of predictive exams.  Mastery, Universal, and Scholar Academies use the 4sight, while ASPIRA uses Study Island. 

Anonymous is correct, however, in that the District does not provide the tests to the Renaissance providers or directly mandate that they use them. 


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 4:10 pm

Thanks, Mr. Herold. The three tests you mention, though, are different than the "Predictive" tests that come from Acuity/CTB McGraw-Hill, which District schools use. So if anyone is talking about the predictive results from Renaissance schools and comparing those to the Predictive results from District schools, they are not comparing the same tests.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on May 23, 2011 5:17 pm

Am I mistaken that the 4sight exam is the primary predictive test used by the District, and that this test is produced by Acuity/CTB-McGraw HIll?



Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 23, 2011 6:31 pm

4sight is NOT used by the SDP - it is produced by Success for All. The SDP uses Acuity/McGraw Hill who also does the Benchmark tests. Study Island, which is used by many SDP schools, also has a predictive test that can be used. Achieve 3000 issues predictive scores. So, we're full of predictions but, as usual, the SDP coordinates nothing other than to "judge" us based on the scores.

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 11:49 am

Several posts have included incorrect information about the Acuity Predictive tests.

1. The tests are NOT identical each time. About 1/3 of the items are identical from test 1 to 2, and then a different set of items are repeated from test 2 to 3, but 2/3 of the items on each test are unique.

2. The Predictive tests have three purposes. The most obvious, but arguably the least important, is to predict performance on the PSSA. The tests are also designed to show growth over time by testing the same skills each time and by increasing in difficulty. (e.g. What would a student know about these skills at the beginning, middle, and end of the year?) The final, and most important, purpose is to inform instruction by showing students' strengths and weakness on the skills that were tested. The Predictives test skills that the PSSA tests, so even though they are not aligned to the Planning and Scheduling Timeline, they do provide information about students' knowledge on the PSSA skills and how that knowledge changes during the year.

3. The article incorrectly states that Renaissance schools take the Predictives. Unless they have independently contracted with McGraw-Hill to purchase the tests, they are not taking them. The District does not provide Predictive tests to the Renaissance schools.

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on May 23, 2011 2:24 pm

I think the issue is that the District does not think that the data derived from the Predictive tests is valuable or accurate enough to be used to interpret growth. Testing students beginning, middle, and end of year on similar skill sets is a useful tool for growth but if the District itself believes that the data has limited value in demonstrating growth in achievement, why are we paying a corporate entity to provide us with these tests that teachers could easily write themselves.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 2:51 pm

I can't answer why we're paying a company to provide the tests. I would be hesitant to assume that the few "leaders" and decision-makers in the District completely understand the uses of the Predictives. Most seem to focus solely on the percent of students predicted to be Proficient or Advanced and what that might mean for PSSA performance. They look for growth in that percentage instead of looking for growth in skill-level performance. The District is only in the 2nd year of use for these Predictives, so I'm not sure how much people have been able to really determine how well these tests show growth and/or accurately predicted PSSA performance. Since the article seemed to suggest that some District leaders don't even realize which schools take the Predictives (e.g. Renaissance schools don't take Predictives) and that some leaders put more importance on the Predictive scores than others, I think this is another case of the "leadership" not having all of the facts straight and not having a unified message.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 23, 2011 3:06 pm

Reading ability is not a set of isolated skills. It is a cognitve "ability" to determine meaning from the written word. It depends on many factors including background of experience, motivation and persistence. A valid and reliable assessment of overall reading ability is the best indicator of how a student will do on the PSSA.

The PSSA does not measure readng level. The originators of the PSSA made that clear to us years ago. It merely places students into four classifications: basic, below basic, proficient or advanced. Those classifications are arbitrarilty set by the Department of Education.

Their classifications do not correlate with any developmental stages in reading. Just the fact that we teach to the test and even teach the test invalidates them as measures of growth in reading ability. We do not even test the same students from year to year.

It is sad to see the destruction of the Art of teaching reading and the science of its measurement. Really it is. As a reading specialist and trained diagnostician with over 20 years experience in Philadelphia, I have taught and assessed reading using just about every assessment instrument possible. The PSSA is the least valid and reliable reading test I have ever been forced to use.

For the PSSA to measure reading level, it must go from the simple to the complex and from the lower reading levels to the higher reading levels. Then you can see where each students' comprehension begins to break down and where it becomes frustrational.

The PSSA does not do that. Even the constructed response portion is nothing more than an attempt to standardize what is known as "performance assessment." it is highly arguable whether that can be done at all.

Submitted by Krishna (not verified) on May 22, 2015 10:08 pm

The testing results might always be a good thing so that somebody get a good overview at the actions that are going on while working (clash of clans cheats).

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 3:47 pm

Even if your 2/3 figure is accurate, why are juniors taking predictive tests post PSSA? What is the purpose to test how they will do on the PSSA after they have taken it?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 4:34 pm

As I wrote, I believe there are three main purposes for the Predictives, and only one is to predict performance on the PSSA. In my opinion, teachers of 11th graders are still concerned with helping their students learn, even after the PSSA is finished. Predictive 3, given in May, can be compared to Predictive 1 and 2 to show progress on PSSA skills over the course of the year. PSSA skills are not just important for the PSSA. We still want to know what our students' strengths and weakness are on important skills.

Some people might find it valuable to see what progress students have made over the course of the year (according to this one type of test which is not the end-all-be-all). This information isn't just useful when considering individual student growth but also for potentially looking at teachers' strengths and weaknesses. Did my students get better at Inference over the course of the year but still struggle with Identifying Main Idea? Do other ways I've assessed my students' abilities also show a weakness with this skill? Maybe I should reconsider how I teach Main Idea or ask a colleague who has had more success in this area? I'm NOT suggesting that the Predictives be used to evaluate teachers' performance, but I do think that the Predictives are ONE source of information that can be used to inform instruction. I don't think ANY important decision for students and teachers should be based on just this ONE source of data.

So I think there is absolutely some value for 11th graders taking Predictive 3. Learning doesn't stop after the PSSA, and it doesn't stop after 11th grade. As I wrote in a previous post, I think District leadership should put more emphasis on the ways the Predictives can be used to inform instruction instead of just on the predicted performance levels. If they did, perhaps more people would understand the purpose and value of Predictive 3 for all grades, not just 11th.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 6:00 pm

Your assuming there is some value in this form of testing other than to practice for the PSSA multiple choice questions. The tests show me nothing about my students other than their interest in working through "process of elimination" with multiple choice tests.

College readiness is far more complicated than the PSSA. Therefore, my goal is to get my students ready for college - not another multiple choice test.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on May 23, 2011 4:54 pm

IF these Acuity tests are supposed to give us a handle on how the kids WILL do in the PSSA, why are they given to first and second graders, why are they being given this week and WHY were we told today that they had to be done by Thursday??
Yes - no advanced warning at all...
Was that just us?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 4:09 pm

I have no idea what's happening at your school, but I do know that the District Assessment Calendar has been available since August, and that calendar makes clear that first and second graders were supposed to be tested this week. Your principal and/or test coordinator should have known about this before today, I assume. The calendar also has the dates for May 25-27, so the decision to have the tests done by Thursday may be a decision being made in your building.

I don't know all of the answers, but I will again refer you to what I wrote about what I believe are supposed to be the main purposes of the Predictives, and predicting performance on the PSSA is just one of those.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 6:46 pm

Are you from McGraw Hill? Since you aren't publishing your name and you are promoting the Predictive test - I can assume you're either McGraw Hill or someone at 440 who finds value in repetitive, redundant, multiple choice testing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 7:28 pm

Hey -- I think that kind of attack is unfair. Feel free to speak out against this kind of testing if you don't see value in it, but I think that this person was just trying to correct some misstatements that had been made. I would feel more justified in criticizing something if I knew I had the correct information with which to do so.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 9:45 pm

On the issue of scheduling, advance warning, etc., it has been my experience that very few things are actually told to the building at the very last minute. The District doesn't win any awards for publicizing dates, but they are usually available well in advance. Pretty much everytime I've been in a building that was "surprised" by a deadline, it was published well in advance and the person responsible wasn't paying attention (these predictives are the same -- the testing calendars has been out all year).

On the purpose of the test -- there is only one real purpose. It's to get data to use in school closing/renaissancing/"praising" announcements. The tests don't provide anything more valuable than what a good (or even mediocre) teacher already knows from classroom assessments. The predictives just give a standardized number to compare schools and justify turning them around (Empowerment) or continuing the resources (Promise Academy). They aren't "predictive" (11th graders taking them after the PSSA??), and as I said, the growth can be just as easily measured in the classroom with relevant texts (and perhaps not using the same texts again on each test). Anyone who does not realize this as the true purpose of these tests is incredibly naive.

The data isn't terribly meaningful, but it's numbers and in American society if you use numbers in your argument, you seem more persuasive. The predictives exist so that the powers-that-be can use them to justify decisions. As will all numbers, however, they can be used to support whatever argument you want. The same scores can be either "amazing growth" or "unacceptably slow growth" depending on the purposes of the person using the data.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 5:59 pm

I hope the Daily News article today answered any and all questions about the motivation of folks behind the Charter and Voucher Movements. The Rich and corporate types are making money, of course, off these kids. They used to call that slavery. Isn't it funny that they only prey on the inner cities???
Gee, I wonder why?? Could it possible be because the more affluent areas will chase their sorry butts out like the no-good carpetbaggers that they are.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 5:58 pm

any updates on layoffs?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 6:53 pm

Some people have already received notice in the mail, and our school got a list of who was going to be force transferred although they have been slow to share with the staff. Our secretary told me today that the notices would be going out en masse the week of June 6th, and I'm hoping that she wasn't right when she told me that all the first-years are screwed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 7:34 pm

Just wondering: do you know if she meant notices about positions at your particular school, or positions in the district as a whole? Also, do these notices come from the school or the district? As a first year, I'm still very confused as to how this whole process works.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 10:06 pm

You will have a teaching job in September and likely at your school. The district always plays this kind of game and with a devil like Corbett in Harrisburg, I don't blame her. You'll be OK in my honest opinion.

Submitted by Mark (not verified) on May 23, 2011 9:57 pm

Who has received notices in the mail? I've not heard of ONE person in the district who has received anything in the mail as of yet. I was told it was all coming after June 6.
And saying that first years are screwed is absurd - it depends on your certification.
Now, if you're a first year elementary certified teacher, you might get the layoff notice, but you'll be rehired before October...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 10:21 pm

Exactly !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 10:58 pm

She should not have told you anything, of course, Having said that, remember when it was 3rd. year teachers and down would be gone?? NOBODY will lose his/her teaching job in Phila. because of layoffs after the dust settles. Folks who are not certified properly etc. may be gone but nobody who is permanently appointed will lose a job. Corbett who is a DEVIL will kick in some more money and the list of retirees and voluntary people will offset any layoffs.

Submitted by Stop The Insanity (not verified) on May 23, 2011 6:04 pm

There was an update on administrative lay-offs at 440 in the Inquirer, but once again, Kristin Graham supplied unsubstantiated information and claimed later in the piece that 1,200 teachers would be laid off. We know this isn't true because more than 720 have submitted retirement applications and resignations.

I'm guessing more information will be released post-Memorial Day, since the district has decided to put together a budget based on the worst case scenario - rather than wait until the state actually decides on school funding.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2011 10:59 pm

Nobody will actually lost their job after the dust settles. I agree with your post. the number is smaller and smaller and retirees wait until the last second to increase their benefit package. No layoffs, none.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 23, 2014 1:35 am

I totally agree. These promises are for all students, not only for the part? My problem is that in the recent budget meeting, of course, I have not received any reply for public schools and charter schools, this is really a very bad thing . blog

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