Unsteady progress: City student test scores sorely need a boost

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Every little bit helps, but in the case of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, more than a little help is necessary.

The latest state test scores for the district show slight improvements in the percentage of students performing at or above a proficient level in reading, math and writing. However, those results, which are for students in grades 3 through 8, remain far below the overall performance that students achieved four years ago.

Until 2011, students had been showing slow but steady improvement, indicating the district was moving in the right direction. The scores for 2012, however, dropped in reading and math and they fell further in 2013.

As a result, even though the 2014 scores are somewhat better than the preceding year, performance remains far below 2011 levels. Then, 60.8 percent of students showed at least adequate performance in reading and 66.2 percent in math; now the comparable figures are 53.3 percent for reading and 60.3 percent for math. Adding to the disappointment, results on the science exams for students in grades 5 and 8 also were down slightly from 2013.

News at the high school level wasn’t encouraging either. Performance on Keystone Exams in algebra, literature and biology dipped. There was wide variation across the district’s nine secondary schools — no students scored proficient or better in science at Milliones in the Hill District or Westinghouse in Homewood, and Westinghouse was at the bottom in all three subjects. Students at CAPA, the Downtown school for performing arts, did best in algebra and literature and tied with the Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy in Oakland on the biology exam. Even so, that high score had just 49.3 percent of students performing adequately.

Beyond all that, the gap between white and black students remains too high, with a 27.2 percentage point difference in reading and 26.2 points in math.

Superintendent Linda Lane expressed gratitude that scores improved slightly over the most recent prior year rather than slipping, but the results clearly demonstrate that Pittsburgh schools face a steep climb as students start another academic year.

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