A+ Schools' annual analysis of Pittsburgh Public Schools noted again a troubling academic disparity between the district's black and white students.
“The gap is in the 30s,” said Carey Harris, the Pittsburgh-based advocacy group's executive director. “That’s got to be a focus, and I think probably the No. 1 concern leading up to that (will) be attendance and suspensions.”
A+ defines the racial achievement gap as the difference between black student achievement at a specific school compared to white student achievement in the district overall.
According to state data, between 30 and 40 percent more white students scored proficient or advanced than black students in state-mandated math and reading exams last school year – right on par with state averages overall.
The achievement gap has hovered at that level for at least a decade, Harris said, even as suspension rates increased among elementary and middle school students who report a feeling or display behavior indicating disrespect.
Some high points in the report show double-digit gains in tests scores for long-struggling Carrick and Westinghouse High Schools, as well as a six-point increase in the district’s graduation rate from 68 to 74 percent.
More high school seniors qualified to apply for the Pittsburgh Promise, a higher-education scholarship program available only to Pittsburgh Public School graduates, rose from 48 percent the previous year to 65 percent in 2015. Pittsburgh secondary students also outperformed averages statewide for the Keystone algebra and literature exams taken in the spring.
However the report noted some struggles, including slumping reading levels for the district's third graders. State data show half of those tested were not able to read at grade level.
District Superintendent Linda Lane, who announced plans not to renew her contract in September, also acknowledged Pittsburgh's shrinking school population. The district lost 1,100 students in the past four years. Lane credited much of the loss to a declining birth rate through the early 2,000s and the rise of charter schools.