Thursday, August 11, 2011

Knowing what we know about test answers being changed by school personnel, how much faith can we really put in this report?

More Pittsburgh students fare better on state tests
Thursday, August 11, 2011

A preliminary review of state test data indicates a larger percentage of Pittsburgh Public Schools students rated proficient or better in math and reading, district officials announced Wednesday.

According to early data from the 2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the percentage of students deemed proficient or advanced increased on 11 of the 14 tests.

The exceptions were math and reading results for sixth grade and math results for third grade. On those three tests, the percentage of students proficient or better declined.

The share of students scoring advanced on the PSSA rose on 10 of the 14 tests, with the exception of grade 6 reading and math, grade 3 reading and grade 11 math.

The district also pointed to another encouraging sign that showed fewer students scored poorly on the tests. The percentage of students scoring below basic decreased on 13 of the 14 tests, except for grade 3 math.

Superintendent Linda Lane released the district's results to a meeting of principals and other employees at the Pittsburgh Professional Development Center in the Greenway facility.

She acknowledged that more work was ahead and that significant improvement takes time, but nonetheless she said the results "suggest that we are making gains and are making progress."

Asked about sixth-grade test declines, she said more analysis was needed on what's behind the scores. "Is sixth grade just lower statewide, or is it just Pittsburgh?" she said.

The results released were broken out by grade and by race but did not include a school-by-school breakdown of performance. Officials said a fuller presentation would be made Monday night to the school board's education committee.

Ms. Lane said the district is awaiting final word from the state Department of Education on whether Pittsburgh Schools achieved adequate yearly progress, an academic standard known as AYP that is used by the federal government. That announcement is expected next month.

The early data indicates that 66 percent of the district's students collectively in grades 3 through 8 and 11 were at least proficient in math, up from 62.3 percent in 2010 and 55.4 percent in 2007.

In reading, 60.5 percent of students collectively in grades 3-8 and 11 were at least proficient in reading, compared with 56.6 in 2010 and 51.4 percent in 2007.

The PSSA is administered in grades 3-8 and 11. Performance on the test is one of the measures by which a district can achieve AYP, a threshold that districts must meet under the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act. Also weighed are attendance, graduation rates and test participation.

Schools and districts hoping to achieve AYP must satisfy a complex set of requirements that includes hitting overall student targets and targets for specific enrollment categories such as minority children, poor children and those receiving special education instruction.

The requirements become more stringent over time and by 2014 stipulate that all students be proficient in math and reading.

The data released indicates that a sizable disparity remains in the performance of white students versus African-American students.

However, district officials said African-American students have moved closer to parity with white students in all grade levels tested since 2007, as achievement levels for both groups increased.

The disparity in reading scores decreased to 27.7 percentage points from 32.3 percentage points in 2007, and the math disparity decreased to 25.9 percentage points from 31.1 percentage points during that period.

According to this year's results, 76.7 percent of white students scored proficient or better in reading compared with 49 percent of African-American students. In math, 81.1 percent of white students scored proficient or better, compared with 55.2 percent of African-American students.

Officials highlighted results from Pittsburgh Arsenal K-5 and Pittsburgh Perry High School.

Arsenal's reading proficiency increased 18.2 percentage points from 2010 and 22.5 percentage points from 2007. The school's math proficiency rose by 9.4 percentage points from last year and 26.1 percentage points from 2007.

At Perry, reading proficiency rose by 7.5 percentage points from last year and by 7 percentage points from 2007.

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