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PPS Shows Progress, But Not Equally Among Schools

Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) are making progress in the graduation rate, and the number of students enrolled in AP classes, but that progress is not seen equally throughout the district according to A+ Schools 10th anniversary report on the 2013-14 school year.

The report examines all schools in several categories including: proficiency of teachers, per pupil spending (excluding transportation, principal salary and building costs), if students feel challenged and cared for, suspension rates, PSSA scores, and a breakdown of most scores based on race and income.

A high percentage of chronic absentee and suspension was reported. Middle schools in the district had the highest suspension rates with 32% of students being suspended. High school students had the highest percentage of chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or more of school days) at 43%.

“Attendance [and] suspensions are a big concern. It’s a bigger problem in some schools then others, and while we’ve seen some great progress overall, we still know that there are some places where we’re not seeing this progress and so that continues to be a big concern of ours,” said Executive Director of A+ Schools, Carey Harris.

Pittsburgh CAPA (6-12) reported suspending 8% of students, while Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy (6-12) suspended 62% of students. Pittsburgh Perry High School reported 66% of students were chronically absent, while Pittsburgh Allderdice High School reported 23%.

For high schoolers the graduation rate is up eight percentage points from two years ago, to 77%; 41% of students are enrolled in one or more AP classes (26 percentage points higher than two years ago); and, 48% of seniors qualified for their secondary school to be paid for by the Pittsburgh Promise.

Some schools such as Pittsburgh Obama (6-12) have a graduation rate of 85% with 74% attending college or trade school afterward, while Pittsburgh Perry High School has a graduation rate of 63% with 34% continuing onto college or a trade school.

“We want to celebrate some progress made here. … We are seeing significantly greater participation in advanced courses, for both black and white students. We have more schools with little or no achievement gap in math, and achievement is slightly higher and the gap is slightly smaller over the past 9 years,” said Harris.

PPS Superintendent Linda Lane noted that PSSA scores are down from 2010 but did increase for the 2013-14 school year.  "I'm not trying to make the case that this was phenomenal growth in PSSA--it was not.  But nevertheless, it took a lot of hard work to get there,m every tenth of a point, teachers working like a dog to get there," Lane said.  "Yah we're going to work harder to make it more next time, but we also have to recognize the work of people to get the results that we get."

A+ also found that spending is higher in schools with fewer than 300 students by about $1,000 more per students based on the average teacher salary.

The report studied 50 PPS schools in the district as well as 7 charter schools within the city which reported a 97% graduation rate.

The complete report can be found at A+ Schools.  

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014. The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science. Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.
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