Pittsburgh Public Schools rewarded for student academic growth
Fourth-grader Roberto Morris plays his drums at the start of the morning assembly at Pittsburgh Dilworth in East Liberty.
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In the first 10 minutes of school, Pittsburgh Dilworth K-5 students in the auditorium already had spoken two languages besides English -- "good morning" in Spanish and "applause" in sign language -- and maybe even another if music counts as the universal language.
By then, some of the students at the East Liberty school had filled time by reading books while waiting for school to start, getting closer to the goal of 50 books.
Students had walked by student artwork highlighting the creativity at the traditional academy, a magnet school that emphasizes arts and humanities.
"There's joy in this school," said school superintendent Linda Lane.
There are also strong improvements in state test scores, placing the school in the top 15 percent statewide for academic growth.
Dilworth is among 10 operating city schools and one closed school honored for high achievement Monday as the district's first STAR schools -- which stands for Students and Teachers Achieving Results.
The idea is to reward progress, not absolute achievement, on state tests. A student who started the year behind grade level, for example, would have to make more than a year's worth of academic progress just to pull even. The award recognizes that progress, whether the student started below, at or above grade level. Students at STAR schools had significantly more academic growth than the state average.
Under the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers contract, full-time teachers and other professionals who worked in these schools in 2011-12 will receive a bonus of up to $6,000, pro rated according to the number of days they were assigned to the school.
Paraprofessionals and technical-clerical workers represented by the union will receive bonuses of up to $2,000.
More than 500 staff members will receive bonuses.
The bonuses total about $2.1 million, 80 percent of which is paid by a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant.
Next year, the grant will pay for 70 percent of the awards. In the third year, the grant will pay for 30 percent. After that, the contract will be re-negotiated.
The program is meant to show appreciation, encourage teamwork and call attention to successes that could help other schools.
"I'm very excited our teachers are being recognized for the teamwork they exhibit," said union president Nina Esposito-Visgitis.
Dilworth is the only STAR school that also made adequate yearly progress, also known as AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In addition to Dilworth, the list includes five other schools in the top 15 percent: Pittsburgh Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park, Sunnyside PreK-8 in Stanton Heights, Whittier K-5 in Mount Washington and South Hills 6-8 in Beechview as well as Fort Pitt K-5 in Garfield, which is now closed.
Two other STAR schools are in the top 25 percent: Pittsburgh Brookline PreK-8 and Weil PreK-5 in the Hill District, where the maximum award is smaller.
In addition, three other schools met different STAR criteria for special schools: Pittsburgh Conroy on the North Side, Pioneer in Brookline and Oliver Citywide Academy on the North Side, which until this fall was at McNaugher.
Mathematica Policy Research developed the method for determining which were the top schools, focusing on the gains made by students as opposed to just the end results. It considered two years of results on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in math, reading, writing and science. Schools were compared by level.
It adjusted expected achievement for certain factors, such as poverty, which would lower the amount of expected growth.
"If you just look at proficiency rates, that's going to tell you more about these students who are served than it does about the performance of the school," said Brian Gill, senior fellow at Mathematica.
"There are wide variations in the student populations in different schools across Pittsburgh and even wider variations when you look across the state," he said.
The state also has a growth measure known as the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System, but that uses a different baseline and doesn't consider as many student traits as Mathematica's model does.
Mr. Gill declined to release a statewide list of results of the Mathematica model.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the state only ranks the bottom 15 percent, not the top.
At Dilworth, principal Monica Lamar extended her praise for achievement not only to staff but also to students, parents, volunteers and the school crossing guard. Each received a sack pack emblazoned with the school's name.
Dilworth students had their own views of what being a STAR school means.
"STAR students are supposed to help one another," first-grader Mae Zanoun said.
"It means you have to be good and listen to the teacher," said another first-grader, Mutwali Stewart.
Fifth-grader Winston Bell said, "I love it. I think it has everything I need."
First Published November 20, 2012 12:00 am