Pittsburgh Public Schools' state test scores inch higher

After two years of disappointing state test scores, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane this time is feeling particularly thankful the district’s 2014 scores show improvement.

“I’m very grateful for the work of our principals and our teachers that turned us around a little bit. I have to feel really good about that after the two tough years we’ve had,” Mrs. Lane said in an interview. “We all understand how much work every little 10th of a point represents.”

Mrs. Lane said she was not only grateful for the work “but also grateful that work translated into some kind of measurable result that was positive.”

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Mrs. Lane presented the districtwide results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests given in the spring this year. They cover math and reading in grades 3-8, science in grades 4 and 8, and writing in grades 5 and 8. School-level results are expected to be released Sept. 9. The state has not yet released statewide data.

In addition, she released districtwide and school-by-school results of the state end-of-course Keystone Exams given in algebra 1, literature and biology in nine secondary schools.

The PSSA results show districtwide improvement in reading, math and writing with more students scoring proficient or advanced. The increases were between 2 and 3 percentage points. All three subjects had at least 51 percent of the students scoring proficient or advanced.

On the PSSA, math had both the highest percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced and the largest increase. The percentage went from 57.7 percent to 60.3 percent, an increase of 2.6 percentage points. The proficiency percentages for reading were 53.3 percent and for writing 56.9 percent in 2014.

City test scores

Science had the lowest percentage, 45.4 percent proficient or advanced, a decrease of 0.9 percentage points.

Broken down by grade level, the results showed a decrease at fourth grade and an increase at eighth grade in science. The results also were mixed in writing, with eighth-grade results up and fifth-grade results down.

Math and reading had 12 “testing points” — six grade levels with two exams each — and showed improvement in eight of the 12.

On the Keystone Exams, the district overall showed a decline on each of the three exams, ranging from 0.7 percentage points in literature to 1.5 percentage points in biology. Even so, most schools showed an increase.

Keystone test-takers did best on literature, in which 62.8 percent were proficient or advanced. The percentage for algebra 1 was 49.8 percent and for biology 21.9 percent.

There was wide variation across the nine secondary schools, with no students scoring proficient or advanced in science at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 in the Hill District and Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood. Westinghouse was at the bottom for all three tests, with its highest percentage of proficient or advanced 7.9 percent in literature, a decrease from 31.8 percent in 2013.

Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Downtown, earned the highest proficiency percentages for algebra at 80.4 percent and literature at 95.8 percent and tied for first with Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy 6-12, known as Sci-Tech, in Oakland, for biology with 49.3 percent.

Mrs. Lane said the variability among schools is a crucial issue. “If we as a district can address that in a really strong way, that’s half the battle right now,” she said.

Mrs. Lane said the district will be looking at what schools that work are doing differently so schools can learn from each other.

She said some schools have developed professional learning communities in which teachers meet, discuss data and work on lesson plans together.

The PSSA results showed a decline in the racial disparity between white and black students of 1.8 percentage points in reading and 2.2 percentage points in math. In both cases, both white and black achievement increased.

That still left a racial achievement gap of 27.2 percentage points in reading and 26.2 percentage points in math. In reading, 42.4 percent of black students were proficient or advanced; in math, 49.8 percent.

“The real issue for us is the achievement of African-American students,” Mrs. Lane said. “That’s what we need to work on. If we have fewer than half of African-Americans in a subject area achieving proficiency, that is the issue.”

In addition to district staff, Mrs. Lane also gave plaudits to parents “for working hard to get kids to school, all the things parents do to support the learning of their children.”

The district had a “Be There” campaign to encourage school attendance during the past school year.


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published August 20, 2014 7:52 PM

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