By Rebecca Nuttall, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –
The latest report by A+ Schools revealed that the achievement gap between White and Black students continues to decrease. However, at the rate it is narrowing, it would take 40 years to be eliminated.
Even more disappointing is that the report also notes that while Black student achievement, as demonstrated through performance on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, has increased, a decline in White student achievement also contributed to narrowing the gap.
Despite an unclear picture of how the achievement gap is changing, the report, released in mid-November, concluded that high schools, which have the largest achievement gaps in the district, remain the key areas most in need of improvement. Despite gains made in elementary schools, PSSA scores for grade 11 declined in all subjects.
“Gains made in earlier grades are disappearing in high schools. That threatens our youth’s future prospects for achieving the Pittsburgh Promise, college or job training, and becoming independent members of our community,” said Carey Harris, A+ Schools executive director. “These issues deserve our urgent attention.”
The achievement gap narrowed at all grade levels except third grade. Overall, since the previous school year, the gap narrowed by 0.3 percentage points in math and 1.8 percentage points in reading.
The total gap for the 2009-2010 was 28.7 percent in reading and 27 percent in math. However, at Oliver, Carrick, Brashear, and Westinghouse high schools the gap was greater than 50 percent.
“High schools are very much where our greatest efforts need to be,” said PPS Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. “The results at high schools are still unacceptable.”
Upon announcing his retirement in October, Roosevelt touted the creation of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship as one of his greatest accomplishments. When you look at schools with grades 9-12, disparities between Black and White students exist in their eligibility to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise.
More than 60 percent of White students were eligible for the scholarship in every high school where White students attended. However the highest percentage of eligible Black students at any school was 52.3, dropping as low as 20.9 percent at Langley High School.
One requirement for eligibility is that students must have a grade point average of 2.5 or higher. On average 39.9 percent of African-American students meet this requirement as compared to 74.4 percent for White students.
The report also examined differences in achievement at different types of schools. Magnet schools and charter schools had higher percentages of Black students who scored proficient or advanced on PSSA tests.
“Overall, we see progress in schools across the district. We have good examples of district and charter schools that are educating students to high levels,” Harris said. “But there is much more work to be done, especially in our high schools.”
The report states that in comparison to all PPS students, Black PPS students made greater gains. However, the relationship between the increase in dropout rates at many schools and the high percentage of Black males who dropout of high school, might have impacted these numbers. If poor performing Black males are dropping out, they are not being tested with their higher performing counterparts.
Two high schools where the student body is predominantly made up of African-Americans, both above 80 percent, have seen the highest drop in graduation rates. Oliver High School went from 79.7 to 44.7 percent and Westinghouse High School went from 83.2 to 67.6 percent. However, graduation rates at Peabody High School, which is 92.8 percent African-American, rose from 72.2 to 80.5 percent.
The report also examined changes in student enrollment. Despite increases during the 2008-2009 school year, enrollment throughout the district continued to decline during the past school year, reaching its lowest point in four years for all grade levels except K-5.
Last week, A+ Schools mailed their sixth annual report to 20,000 city households with children enrolled in PPS and children ages 5 and under. The report will also be available in local libraries, city schools and at elected officials’ offices, or by calling A+ Schools and can be accessed online at www.aplusschools.org.