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PennCAN Report Card Methodology 2013

We designed PennCAN’s School Report Cards to help Pennsylvania families access online information about their local schools so that they can serve as effective advocates for kids. Our goal is to create transparency and awareness about how our public schools perform. We believe that residents in Pennsylvania deserve to know how well our public schools are meeting the needs of every student according to the annual state assessments.

Below we explain our process for producing school and district report cards. If you have additional questions or comments, please send them to jonathan.cetel@penncan.org

THE DATA WE USE

We work in coordination with GreatSchools and base our report cards on data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. We use results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) for grades three through eight, and 11 as well as four-year graduation rates for high schools.

This year’s report cards feature data from the 2011-2012 state assessments and the four-year cohort graduation rates for students who entered ninth grade in 2007.

Note: Enrollment and subgroup data featured in our report cards are from NCES 2008-2009.

THE BASICS

PennCAN’s 2013 school and district report cards assign letter grades in five categories:

  • Student performance (Average percentage of students who are proficient or above across reading and math).
  • Subgroup performance (Average percentage of low-income, black and Latino students who are proficient or above in reading and math).
  • Achievement gap (Average difference between the percentage of low-income and minority students and percentage of non-low-income and white students who are proficient or above in reading and math).
  • Performance Gains (Average one-year change among a cohort of students who are proficient in reading and math).
  • Four-year cohort high school graduation rates (new as of 2013).

We assign a single score and grade to each of these categories based on state assessment results from the highest tested grade level in each school:

  • For elementary schools, we use the results from the fifth-grade test (with fourth-grade results used when an elementary school does not have a fifth grade and sixth-grade results used when an elementary school goes through that grade level).
  • For middle schools, we use results from the eighth-grade test (with seventh-grade results used when a middle school doesn’t have an eighth grade).
  • For high schools, we use the results from grade 11.
  • For schools with grade levels that span across elementary, middle and high school, such as a K-12 school, we report achievement results for students at all of these levels and provide a separate report card for the elementary, middle and high school.

CATEGORY ONE: STUDENT PERFORMANCE

We give each school  score for how well its students perform on average. To determine this score, we calculate the average percentage of students who are proficient or above in reading and math on the PSSAs for the highest tested grade level in a school.

Our grades for Student Performance are based off on a normative scale system. Below is the grading scale for this category:

CATEGORY TWO: SUBGROUP PERFORMANCE

We determine subgroup performance by calculating the average percentage of students in a given subgroup who are proficient or above in math and reading for the highest tested grade level in a school. The subgroups we look at are:

  • Black
  • Latino
  • Low-income
  • Overall subgroup performance

We calculate the subgroup performance score and grade for a school by averaging the performance of black, Latino, and low-income students.

Our grades for Subgroup Performance are based off on a normative scale system. Below is the grading scale for this category:

CATEGORY THREE: ACHIEVEMENT GAP

To better understand how well schools and districts serve all their students, we also assign a grade for their achievement gaps.

To calculate the gap, we look at the difference between the average performance of low-income and minority students (in the school’s highest tested grade level) and the performance of their upper-income and white peers. Specifically, we examine the following achievement gaps:

  • White vs. black
  • White vs. Latino
  • Low-income vs. non-low-income
  • Overall achievement gap

We calculate a school’s achievement gap score and grade by averaging the black/white achievement gap, the Latino/white achievement gap, and the low-income/non low-income achievement gap.

Our grades for Achievement Gap are based off on a normative scale system. Below is the grading scale for this category:

CATEGORY FOUR: GRADUATION RATES


In addition to looking at student performance, we also examine the four-year cohort graduation rates for high schools. We use the most recent data available by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and show data for the 2007 cohort (in other words, students who started their freshman year of high school in 2007).

Our grades for Graduation Rates are based off on a normative scale system. Below is the grading scale for this category:


CATEGORY FIVE: PERFORMANCE GAINS

To better understand how well schools and districts are helping students make gains from year to year, we show performance gains for the following grade levels between school years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012:

3rd – 4th
4th – 5th
5th – 6th
6th – 7th
7th – 8th

To do this, we determine the average difference in student performance between the 2010-2011 and the 2011-2012 school year. So for example, we compare average fourth-grade student performance to average third-grade student performance in the year before.  Because high school students are only tested once in their four years, we cannot look at performance gains at the high school level.
We assign grades for performance gains using the following criteria: 

  • We don’t give grades to schools with 85 percent proficiency and higher (so as not to penalize high-performing schools that don’t have much room for growth).
  • Schools that make zero or positive performance gains will receive a C or higher (the bottom cut-off to receive a C is zero performance gains).
  • Any schools that have negative performance gains receive a C- or lower.
  • To determine the grading scale, we:
    • Look at the span of positive performance gains by taking the highest performance gains made and dividing that number by the number of letter grades we assign (from C to A, including – and +, there are seven letter grades). This gives us the increments by which we assign grades from C to A.
    •  For C- to F grades, we divide the worst performance gains made by the five different letter grades we assign for negative gains. This gives us the increments by which we assign grades from C- to F.

Here is the full grading scale for performance gains:

 

TOP 10 SCHOOLS

PennCAN ranks schools in key areas so parents can compare schools to one another. We use these rankings to generate Top 10 Lists, which show the top-performing schools in four different areas:

  • Low-income student performance
  • Black student performance
  • Latino student performance
  • Performance gains

Each subgroup’s performance score is an average of their reading and math proficiency at the highest tested grade level in that school.

In order for a school to be on the Top 10 list for black student performance and low-income student performance, at least 50 percent of the students in that school must belong to that subgroup. To be on the Latino student performance Top 10 list, at least 10 percent of the students in that school must belong to that subgroup.

For example, to be included on the low-income student performance Top 10 list, at least 50 percent of the students in that school must be low-income students.