Achievement gap persists in Pittsburgh Public School system |

Achievement gap persists in Pittsburgh Public School system

Jamie Martines
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet greets children at the University Prep school in the Hill District last year. (Trib photo)

There are two districts within the Pittsburgh Public School system: One where student achievement is high, the suspension rate is low and schools are welcoming. In the other, there are achievement gaps between white students and students of color, teacher turnover is frequent and rates of chronic absenteeism and suspensions are high, said James Fogarty, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit A+ Schools.

Those are the findings of a report by A+ Schools released Monday reviewing student achievement in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system, Fogarty said. The report analyzed the results of the 2016-17 school year PSSA and Keystone Exams.

Gaps in student achievement often fall along racial and socioeconomic lines, Fogarty said. About 53 percent of students in the Pittsburgh Public School system are black, while about 63 percent of the 22,384 students in the district are economically disadvantaged, according to Pennsylvania Department of Education data.

“We know that if we’re not closing this gap, we’re not going to be able to make sure that all students are ready for the jobs of today,” Fogarty said. About 35 percent of black students in grades three through five scored advanced or proficient on the PSSA reading exam, while 68 percent of white students in the district scored in that range. Statewide, those numbers were similar, with 34 percent of black students passing the exam and 71 percent of white students falling in that range.

Results were lower across the board in math. About 19 percent of Pittsburgh’s third through fifth-graders scored advanced or proficient on the exam, while 55 percent of their white peers scored in that range. Statewide, 18 percent of black students scored advanced or proficient compared to 58 percent of white students.

“Pittsburgh on average is doing pretty much the same as the state, which isn’t good,” Fogarty said. “But overall, we’re seeing some significant challenges for black students in this district.”

Also among the data points highlighted in the report was a disparity between black and white students who qualified for the full Pittsburgh Promise scholarship, which requires a grade point average of at least 2.5 to qualify for a scholarship of up to $7,500 per year at Pennsylvania colleges and technical schools.

Last year, 83 percent of white students were eligible, compared to 51 percent of black students, according to the report.

About 66 percent of the district’s seniors overall earned a grade point average that qualified them for the scholarship, the report said.

Moving forward, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said that the district will strive to address the achievement gap before students walk through the schoolhouse doors.

“Some of our children are doing well, some of them are not,” Hamlet said. “But understanding that the achievement gap does not start at pre-k, it starts at birth, what are we doing as a city, as a community, to really stop the achievement gap at birth?”

He also added that the district is working to build a data management system that would help teachers review students’ day-to-day academic performance. While PSSA and Keystone Exam data are useful, Hamlet noted that the results discussed Monday are months old.

Looking at classroom-specific data on a daily basis could help teachers and principals target areas of need and provide extra support or enrichment opportunities to ensure that students do not fall behind, he said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at [email protected], 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.