Mixed grade: City schools do better but have a way to go

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Like an encouraging teacher, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt is justifiably proud of the progress students have made on standardized reading and math tests, but he's not satisfied yet.

There is validation for both reactions in the latest Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests for grades three through eight plus grade 11.

All grade levels except fourth did better in math during the 2008-09 school year than they did four years earlier; in reading, only sixth graders and high school juniors did not show improvement over scores in 2004-05.

The most significant four-year gains were made by eighth graders, which was especially encouraging since that year is crucial in preparation for high school. In 2004-05, 50.3 percent of the eight graders were proficient or better in reading and 46.8 percent were similarly assessed in math; during the most recent school year, those figures were 71.4 percent and 59.4 percent, respectively.

On the down side, the district hasn't improved enough to meet federal performance standards, a measure the district has missed for six years in a row. Likewise, the district did not match the ambitious goals Mr. Roosevelt set three years ago when he launched "Excellence for All," a campaign for academic and fiscal improvement.

That doesn't mean Mr. Roosevelt made a mistake in aiming high. The worst thing educators can do is expect too little from their students.

Moving forward, the district must continue to concentrate on teacher effectiveness, leadership skills among principals, improvements to the curriculum and an overhaul of the district's high schools.

Perhaps by next year, the superintendent will have an even better report card to deliver.


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