Promise ramps up scholarship to reward test scores

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The Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program on Tuesday spelled out how well city high school students must perform on standardized tests to qualify for a doubling of the maximum four-year award to $40,000, starting next year.

The decision to raise the Promise's original $20,000 limit dates to an agreement in 2007 that helped create the program. In detailing the new rules Tuesday, the program's executive director Saleem Ghubril said the Promise's board of directors wanted to give students multiple paths to the higher amount, thus avoiding undue pressure on them to perform on a single test.

The first eligible students are those from the Pittsburgh Public Schools Class of 2012 -- a group currently in 11th grade.

Along with meeting existing Promise requirements, students seeking the second $20,000 must show "mastery of reading, writing and math" as evidenced by an "advanced" score on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams (PSSA), a score of at least 600 on the SAT, or a combination of the two, Mr. Ghubril said.

On both standardized tests, dollar values are associated with mastery of individual subjects: $5,000 for reading, $5,000 for writing and $10,000 for math. They can be earned as a group of three, or individually.

That means, for instance, a PSSA exam-taker will receive $5,000 for an "advanced" score in reading; $5,000 for an "advanced" score in writing, and $10,000 for an "advanced" score in math, Mr. Ghubril said.

For the Class of 2012 only, students who neither achieve an advanced PSSA score or a 600 SAT score can still qualify for smaller amounts by obtaining the lower PSSA score of "proficient." Those who do will receive $1,000 for reading, $1000 for writing and $2,000 for math.

Members of the Promise board concluded that the state-mandated PSSA tests were suitable for use in 2012 and 2013. The exams will be administered to 11th graders this year between March 14 and 25.

The board also agreed to allow a 600 or better score on the SAT as a substitute for PSSA results.

Mr. Ghubril said a student who scores proficient or lower on a subject while taking the PSSA can still receive the maximum award for that subject, provided the student achieves a 600 or better on the SAT.

"The beauty of the SAT option is they can take it multiple times, while the PSSA can be taken only once in their junior year," he said.

The Pittsburgh Promise is aimed at boosting college opportunities for Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates while advancing economic growth and stability in the Pittsburgh region.

A letter outlining the new requirements was sent to parents from Mr. Ghubril and Schools Superintendent Linda Lane, who said the scholarship "is at the heart of our reform efforts" within the schools.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, in a statement, called the new $40,000 maximum "exciting news" about a program that has provided scholarships to nearly 2,500 students, many of whom might otherwise not have considered college because of cost.

Awards, including one for $100 million from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, helped create and endow the program. Additional contributions have since raised the endowment to $145 million, Mr. Ghubril said.

According to the Promise website, eligible students must:

• Graduate from Pittsburgh Public Schools or one of its charter high schools;

• Be enrolled in the district and a city resident continuously since at least the ninth grade;

• Hold at least a 2.5 GPA;

• Accumulate a 90 percent attendance record;

• Earn entry to a public or private post-secondary school covered by the program.

The school enrolling the most recipients is the Community College of Allegheny County at 450, followed by the University of Pittsburgh, 150; Penn State University, 130; and Point Park, Robert Morris and Slippery Rock universities, each with about 100, Mr. Ghubril said.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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