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Civic Impact

'Rough year' for city students, reports A+ Schools, but bright spots remain

"It was a rough year," acknowledges Carey Harris, head of A+ Schools, about their eighth annual assessment of Pittsburgh Public Schools' status. "After six years of progress, we took a step back on almost every indicator we look at."
 
The report, on the 2011-12 school year, shows that:
  • District enrollment fell by 1,052 to 24,918 students
  • The graduation rate fell from 70 percent to 68.5 percent
  • The percentage of seniors who earned the 2.5 or higher GPA necessary to qualify for the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship fell 1 percent to 58 percent, with 39 percent of black students qualifying (a drop of 4 percent) and 77 percent of white students qualifying (the same rate as the previous year)
Linda Lane, PPS superintendent, announced at the report's release that, for 2012-13, enrollment has stabilized -- even seeing an uptick in kindergartens -- and the district is retaining more students for graduation. And, as Harris points out, "this challenge is shared by public schools across the state," which in general experienced some of the same declines.
 
But most concerning for Harris is a drop in the district's ability to close the achievement gap between black and white students after three years of improvement. The gap increased 1.3 percent to 31.9 percent in reading and 3.6 percent to 30.9 percent in math --the largest the gap seen in four years.
 
"There's a lot of anxiety about what's happening that contributes to this," she says, with school closings and massive teacher layoffs among them. A+ Schools is offering parents and school officials the chance to request a workshop about particular schools -- and a chance for community members to volunteer to be a part of A+'s new effort for 2012-13: interviewing every district school principal. (Sign up to volunteer here.)
 
"We're still better off than we were six years ago," Harris says, with the district's 6-8th grade and 11th-grade reading at higher levels than the state, a 1-percent increase in the number of students enrolled in one or more AP courses and a greater percentage of district schools with little or no achievement gap in reading.
 
"We know it can be done and that schools right here in the district are doing it," she adds. "We need to provide kids with all the supports they need to reach the standards."
 
FOR GOOD:
Become a volunteer for the future of Pittsburgh schools with Communities in Schools.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Carey Harris, A+ Schools
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