The Pittsburgh Public Schools moved ahead last school year on the shoulders of its youngest students, at last posting test scores high enough to meet the federal performance standard known as "adequate yearly progress" or AYP.
This is the first time that the district made AYP, a designation created with implementation of the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act, and officials made the announcement in the balloon-brightened lobby of the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
"This is a wonderful moment," Superintendent Mark Roosevelt told dozens of employees and civic leaders, who accepted invitations to the event without knowing what it was about. The news was greeted with a standing ovation.
In a statement read by Mr. Roosevelt, state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said, "Pittsburgh's students and educators have done a remarkable job in recent years reaching new heights in academic achievement. Six years ago, it appeared as though Pittsburgh schools were in an irreversible downward spiral, but they have reversed course in an impressive fashion."
Pittsburgh made AYP because of the scores that students in grades 3-5 posted on the state math and reading tests last spring, Mr. Roosevelt said. However, the district did not provide the scores and other data.
A district may make AYP by meeting achievement goals outright or through statistical allowances such as "safe harbor" and the "confidence interval." The former credits a district for academic progress -- even if the overall achievement goal wasn't met -- and the latter is a statistical hedge against unfair variations in groups of test-takers over years.
District officials said the state Department of Education sent an e-mail with the AYP news but has not yet provided the explanatory data. Education Department spokeswoman Leah Harris said she was unable to provide the data yesterday, noting the state's release of test scores and AYP status for all state districts likely won't come for at least a couple of weeks.
At the end of the 2007-08 school year, after missing AYP for the sixth time, the district remained in the classification known as "corrective action II." It now moves to the probationary classification called "making progress."
AYP, the accountability component of No Child Left Behind, is the goal of public schools and school districts nationwide.
Districts that fail to make AYP repeatedly, as Pittsburgh has, can face restructuring or other sanctions. Officials have said Pittsburgh was on the verge of a state takeover when Mr. Roosevelt arrived about four years ago with an agenda of school closings and other improvement efforts, some of them heavily criticized.
Each state sets its own standards for AYP, and Pennsylvania recognizes three grade spans -- 3-5, 6-8 and 11.
For 2008-09, a district made AYP if at least 56 percent of students in at least one grade span scored advanced or proficient in math and if at least 63 percent of students in the same span scored advanced or proficient in reading. To make AYP outright, the span's various subgroups--such as black, poor or special education students -- also had to meet achievement targets.
Additional factors, including the district's graduation rate, also help to determine AYP status.
The state reading and math tests -- known as the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment -- are given to public-school students in grade 11 and grades 3-8. Mr. Roosevelt last month said preliminary results showed gains on many tests, but he wasn't optimistic about making AYP.
About 90 percent of districts statewide made AYP for 2007-08. In an urban district with multiple student subgroups, the challenge is considered especially complex.
Joe Smydo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1548.