Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Looking into Philadelphia School District’s Standardized Test Performance

An analysis on Keystone performance data

I’ve been living in Philadelphia for an awfully long time. My years of experience have introduced me to students from all walks of the city’s education system- private, parochial, public- just to name a few. I also know beyond the cheesesteaks that Philadelphia is most known for, the City has also been crowned as the Fourth Most Segregated City of America, with a poverty rate of 23%. Since many would agree that education should serve as one of the great equalizers in life, potentially ending generational poverty, I took this opportunity to dive into the public school education system in which many of these students would attend.

About Keystone Exam

The Keystone Exam is a standardized test administered state-wide to all public schools. Each year, students in Grade 11 would be asked to complete the test for subjects including Algebra I, Biology, and Literature. Then, students would receive a categorical score of Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Advanced, or Proficient-Advance.


I will start with the basic graphs understanding the most recent test results from 2019. To help make the takeaways of this analysis more helpful, I will identify a series of top-performing high schools. After that, I will also take a closer look to understand the performance of students by their ethnicity, social-economic background, and each academic subject.

There has been ongoing conversation and initiatives to improve some of the underperforming high schools. Beyond the 2019 data, I have also included Keystone results from 2017, 2015, and 2013. With the additional years of results available, I can better understand the changes to school performance in the past 6 years.

My hope is that by the end, you can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the state of the Philadelphia School District, as well as ignite a conversation on how to better combat the interpersonal factors that perhaps could hinder a student’s academic performance.

Setting Up

Top-10 Performing High Schools

The talk around town is that Central High School and Masterman are the best high schools to attend. I did a quick rearrangement by the percentage of students Proficient-Advance category in descending order by each school. Here are the top-10 results:

Masterman and Central High School are first and second respectively on the list. It’s also important to note that many of the schools on the top-10 list are also “Special Admission Schools,” where applicants need to meet certain admission criteria of academic achievement, which serves as a self-selective process of students.

Among the top-10 schools, we see a drastic performance gap between Masterman and Central High School than the rest of the top-10 schools

Is Education an Equalizer?

Since I want to understand whether education can serve as an equalizer in these students’ lives, I took a deeper dive into student performance by ethnicity and social-economic background. As a part of the demographic information collected, students are asked their ethnicity as well as whether they are economically disadvanced. As a part of the data cleaning process, I removed the ethnicity groups where counts did not exceed a threshold of 10 students per school.

According to the heat map above, the percentage of Black/African American and Hispanic students in each category is roughly evenly distributed. However, for Asian and White students, the results skew heavily to Proficient-Advance where most of them fall.

Next, I took a closer look at test performance by social-economical background. My hypothesis is that social-economic status is a pretty significant predictor in the academic outcome, especially if one’s family has the financial resources to hire private tutors and the role family plays in the emotional well-being of students.

Without a doubt, for the not economically disadvantaged students, most of them fell within the Proficient-Advance category. Interestingly, the outcome for economically disadvantaged students seems more ambiguous. Although most of them are also within the Proficient-Advance category, the distribution across the categories is much more leveled- suggesting a more intricate role of economic status on the academic outcome for students in this category.

I also wanted to see if there are certain subjects that on the aggregate level the school district could improve. The heatmap shows that literature seems to be the strongest subject, while Biology would be the subject most in need of improvement.

Philadelphia School District in the past 6 years

Beyond the 2019 data, I also examined the results from earlier years dating back to 2013. Let’s first start with a comparison of the top schools in 2013.

It’s interesting to note the achievement gap among the top schools within 6 years as we compared this table to the previous table on top-10 schools in 2019 (also included again below)

Here, we can see that by 2019, the percentage of students in the Proficient-Advance category for Masterman and Central High School as charged head to 99.7% and 99% respectively, while all other schools have fallen. A potential explanation for this would be the increase of student enrollment at Central High School as an artifact of more neighborhood public high schools are closing in recent years. However, I believe other possibilities such as the quality of teachers could certainly be at play.

Below I also included a graph mapping the changes in the percentage of students in Proficient-Advance in 2013 vs. 2019 by each school.

In this chart, we can visually see the changes in schools such as GirardAcademic Music Program school’s performance in 2013 vs. 2019. There seems to be a positive relationship between the percent of proficient-advance in 2013 vs. 2019.

One school in particular that really interested me was Strawberry Mansion High School. This school has been featured in multiple local and national publications and academic research studies as an example of urban education in desperate need of reform. I wanted to see if there as been improvements to the school in the last six years using the available data.

The result seems promising that the percentage of below basic among students at Strawberry High School has fallen from 70% to 50% in the past six years. Of course, deeper analysis on other measurements such as SAT scores, enrollment rate, and daily school attendance are needed to gain a more comprehensive view on the improvements of the school.

A similar trend is observed at the city-level where the percent basics seems to be decreasing across the years.

About this project

This project is created by Lin Jia Chen as a part of OIDD 245 taught by Professor Tambe, Spring 2021. T