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Pittsburgh School District Reports Few Improvements, Many Challenges

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools continues to face stark challenges when it comes to students reaching academic milestones even though a report released Monday shows incremental improvement in a few areas.

The Pittsburgh-based A+ Schools report shows that the district’s graduation rate improved by one percent and now 80 percent of students graduate on time. According to Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, graduation rates for African American males increased from 57 percent in 2015 to 73 percent in 2017.

The report also highlighted improvements in third-grade reading which is when students move from learning to read -- to reading to learn. All subgroups improved, but African American student scores shot up by nine percent.

Student suspensions also decreased significantly, down nearly 35 percent in three years. Several schools are suspending less than one percent of students, but a handful have rates higher than 30 percent.

While student suspensions are decreasing, a disproportionate amount of students removed from schools are black.

“That’s something that we really want to dig into and remedy,” Hamlet said Monday.

The district continues to fall short in other areas. The report notes that too few students are doing math at grade level.

A majority of middle school students in Pittsburgh Public struggle with the subject area. There was a two percent improvement in overall math comprehension in 2017, but still, 76 percent of middle schoolers were not proficient in the PSSA test.

Of the students who took the Algebra 1 Keystone standardized test, 55 percent scored either proficient or advanced.

There’s a racial achievement disparity there too. James Fogarty, executive director for A Plus Schools, noted that taking and successfully completing algebra by eighth grade opens the door for students to take college preparatory math courses in high school. Last year black students were underrepresented in algebra classes.  

“And we want to continue to see, can we grow those numbers of students who are in algebra and can we grow the number of students who are successfully passing what we have right now which is the Keystone, or some other assessment if that becomes what we use later on?” he said.

The district introduced a math curriculum this year that it says is better aligned to state standards that Superintendent Hamlet said he expects will change outcomes.

The A Plus organization wants all students to graduate college and career-ready -- with least 80 percent going on to complete college or trade school. Fogarty said achieving that will take partnerships.

“I truly believe that this community … has the requisite resources, skill set and passion to actually turn the curve on a lot of these issues,” Fogarty said. “It is going to be difficult work but we have got to figure out how to come together across silos and dividing lines in education to really support the students, parents, and educators in our system.”