NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Case Study: Philadelphia Reforms Raise Test Scores

October 15, 1997

A ten-point plan adopted three years ago by the Philadelphia school system has been followed by impressive gains in students' test scores. The $1.3 billion "Children Achieving" plan -- involving the overhaul of the district's 257 schools serving 215,000 students -- still has two years to run.

Here are a few of the successes:

  • From the 1995-96 to the 1996-97 school year, the proportion of students in grades four, eight and 11 scoring at the basic level and above in the Stanford Achievement Test-9 rose 5 percent.
  • Across all grades and the three subjects of reading, math and science, the proportion of students taking each section of the test went up more than 16 percent -- including more special education students and those whose first language is not English.

However, the system still has a long way to go, since nearly half of the mostly inner-city students still do not demonstrate basic mastery of reading, math and science.

Schools superintendent David W. Hornbeck is largely responsible for initiating the program -- which also ties the level of his pay to progress in meeting specific educational goals.

Here are some provisions of the program:

  • The district was divided into 22 moremanageable clusters, and each school adopted "world class" standards in topics including English, science and languages.
  • Staff training was increased and every school was connected to the Internet, with thousands of new computers being added.
  • School councils are being established to share decision-making and 10,000 volunteers have been recruited.
  • The administration has raised $152 million in private and federal funds, and four charter schools have been added.

Moreover, schools get bonuses of $1,500 for every teacher if students exceed the proficiency level on national standardized tests. Schools that fall below the standards are subjected to intervention from central administrators, and those with two consecutive years of declining test scores are slated to be "reconstituted" by transferring teachers.

Source: Tamara Henry, "Philadelphia's Test Success Raises Hopes," USA Today, October 15, 1997.


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