Beginning Friday, parents, students, teachers and others will be able to find out how well their schools are doing under Pennsylvania's new, easy-to-use School Performance Profiles.

School Performance Profiles is the measure of how well students are learning. It replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress measure that was part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Rather than relying on a single test score, the School Performance Profile provides a score for each school based on a number of factors, including student performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment and Keystone exams, graduation, promotion and attendance rates, and how effectively schools can close achievement gaps.

The profiles can be accessed by clicking a link on the Department of Education home page, http://www.pde.state.pa.us.

The change resulted from the U.S. Department of Education's Aug. 20 approval of Pennsylvania's request to waive participation in NCLB. The waiver applies to all public schools, including traditional brick-and-mortar, cyber charter schools, career and technology institutes and intermediate units.

Under the AYP system, schools whose students failed to meet learning requirements as determined by the AYP measures were placed in the "school improvement" or "corrective action" categories.

Now, under the new measure, schools with a high percentage of low-income students, designated Title 1 schools, will be placed in "priority," "focus," or "reward" categories.

Those schools in the reward category will be recognized by the state Department of Education; those in the focus and priority categories will be given intervention and support services.

The Title 1 schools will be assigned to meet four annual objectives: 95 percent participation in the PSSA and keystone exams; an 85 percent graduation rate (or, if that's not applicable, a 90 percent attendance rate or an improvement over the previous year); closing the achievement gap for all students (done by comparing the percentage of students who met proficiency standards in the PSSA, Keystone or PASA exams in the 2012-2013 school year, and closing the gap by 50 percent over a six-year period); and closing the achievement gap of historically underperforming students (done the same way as for the all-students gap closure, but applying it to a non-duplicated count of poor or disabled students, and English language learners enrolled for a full academic year taking the PSSA, Keystone Exams or PASA exams.

Schools that do not qualify as Title 1 won't get a federal accountability designation. They will, however, receive a school performance profile score, and will have access to all of the interventions and support as the Title 1 schools.

So far, local superintendents who weighed in on the changes seem cautiously optimistic.

"I think it will eventually be more helpful," said Weatherly Area School District Superintendent Tom McLaughlin. "It will force districts to look at a variety of measures, including student growth on a yearly basis. It will also make districts look at data in a more in-depth manner."

Tamaqua area School District Superintendent Carol Makuta is concerned that "closing the achievement gap for those students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged and English language learners will be a challenge. I am concerned about the expectation of offering more academic support to students. It's very hard for schools to improve student achievement when drastic funding cuts have been made. The cuts to school funding and rising costs have already had impact on our educational programs.

"This system, however, is an improvement over the last measure used for Pennsylvania public schools since four 'annual measurable objectives' are used to measure student achievement instead of one high-stakes standardized test," she said.

In the Panther Valley School District, Superintendent Rosemary Porembo said the new profiles will offer a more comprehensive snapshot of students performance.

"One component of the School Performance Profile will detail how each school within the district is closing the achievement gap. Student growth will now be factored into the results. Under No Child Left Behind, there was no report to see if a child who was basic ever reached proficient or advanced by the time they graduated," she said. "I believe that the School Performance Profile will also factor in more descriptors of how a school is performing because it will take into consideration the results of the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP course exam placement, graduation rate, promotion rate and attendance. Each year the district can also track the alignment of the curriculum to the Pennsylvania Common Core and the performance of each of its teachers. With the new Teacher Effectiveness Tool, teachers will be tracked to each student and their growth."