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PPS Officials: District Showing Academic Improvement, But Not Enough

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet says district-wide reform is a marathon, not a sprint.

This week he highlighted improvements the district made last school year with the release of the State of the District report.

Overall, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on standardized test scores improved slightly.

In 2018, 46 percent of elementary school students passed the science and English language arts portions of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test at proficient or advanced levels and 29 percent scored in those levels in the math test.

At the high school level, 62 percent of students were proficient or advanced in literacy, 50 percent met those levels in algebra, and 42 percent of students scored at those levels in biology.

Anthony Anderson, deputy superintendent of school support and accountability, said the scores still aren’t ideal.

“We’re showing that we are moving in an upward direction. But are we happy with these numbers? Absolutely not,” he said.

On the Keystone Exams, African American high school students scored lower in the 2017-18 year in literacy, algebra, and biology than the year before.

"When we look at these numbers, we know we have opportunity gaps," Anderson said. "Those opportunity gaps didn't start yesterday. They were imbedded in our constitution when (the country) was founded. And we have to understand that that is the case that we are trying to overcome today."

The district acknowledged other racial disparities including suspension rates. While the overall suspension rate declined slightly, more Hispanic students were suspended last year than the year before. African American students are still disproportionately suspended at higher rates than their non-black peers. The suspension rate for African American students did drop to 15.9 percent for the 2017-18 school year, down from 19.3 percent in the 2016-17 year.

Overall, 10.9 percent of Pittsburgh Public Schools students were suspended at least once during the 2017-18 year. The year before was 13.3 percent. That rate is defined as the number of students who have received one or more suspensions divided by the number of students enrolled at any time during the school year.

Superintendent Hamlet wants the figure to be zero.

“I know some people may say that’s not realistic. But to me, that’s why we are in this business, to make sure we support kids holistically,” he said.

During his tenure, the district has shifted its focus to preventing behavior that prompts suspensions. It’s also focused on alternatives that will keep students in school. 

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.