Move could affect current school rankings
In what amounts to a costly, but necessary, step toward proving families and stakeholders with the most concise public school data available, School District of Philadelphia officials’ decision to search for an outside data analysis firm to recalculate the district’s School Performing Index could potentially wreak havoc on the district’s current ranking of its schools.
Specifically, the district is concerned with SPI scores from the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 academic years.
According to district officials, the district uses SPI and its array of performance data-sets and categories as one of the tools to determine school quality. The district claims SPI is more comprehensive than the Adequate Yearly Progress measure established by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Now, the initial results must be scrapped.
“In late May of this year, a problem was discovered when a district analyst was reviewing the [SPI] data. The district then launched a preliminary review of the data, which took approximately three months,” said School District of Philadelphia Director of Communication Fernando Gallard. “Now we’re down to the point where we feel confident that we must move forward with the recalculation of SPI for those two years, and we’ll also compile the 2011-2012 SPI scores as well.
“The district officials feel this is something we must do, and wants to go to an outside firm to provide us with the expertise in resolving the issue.”
Gallard said it was too early for the district to say if the recalculation will cause a measurable swing – one way or the other – for any school’s ranking; through a release provided by Gallard, the district reaffirmed that the underlying data fed into the SPI calculation isn’t the problem, and that part of the system isn’t at fault. The calculation itself is what is being questioned.
To that end, the district publicized its Request for Proposal, with the idea that both the district and the company with the winning bid share a high level of transparency.
“[Selection of the firm] will be a public process to get the best firm at the best cost. This is a priority, and we’re looking at getting the contract firmed up and are looking at having a firm selected soon,” Gallard said. “We really don’t know how long [the recalculation] will take, but one of the requirements of the RFP is to provide an estimate on when they can accomplish the work. We’re hoping it’s done by February.”
Luckily for a district still dealing with a budget deficit gap approaching $300 million, district officials are in talks with a charitable group to foot the cost associated with hiring a firm.
“We are now in the midst of conversations with a philanthropic organization that will provide the funding, so there will be no direct cost to the district,” Gallard said. “We feel it’s important enough, and we are fortunate enough to find an organization that also feels this is important enough to fund it. We have not concluded conversations with this organization yet, so we can’t yet provide its name, but will do so as soon as we have an agreement.
“The process is going to be very public,” Gallard continued. “And we’re asking the firm to provide reports back to us, and for the public to view them and look at the data and calculations. This very public process is built into the RFP.”