Education Watch Dog Group, A+ Schools’ 8th annual report to the community looks good in some areas, but less than promising in others. One area in need of improvement according the group’s executive director, Carey Harris, is closing the achievement gap. She said closing the gap is urgent, because at this rate, it will take 40 years to be eliminated.
“Here we define the achievement gap as the percentage of black students in the district scoring on grade level or better compared to the percentage of white students across the state scoring on grade level or better," said Harris. "This past year because of the dip in scores we see that the gap actually widened in both reading and math.”
The achievement gap for this year grew by 1.3% in reading and by 3.6% in math. Harris said the reading number is especially important, because if a student can’t comprehend what they are reading, they won’t do well in any other classes.
Jordan Brooks is a student at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts. She said she’s disappointed with the results of the report.
“We as students came and met with teachers community members and administrators last March and we all committed to improving student achievement,” Brooks said. “We as students committed to building better relationships with our teachers by being the best students we could be and not following the stereotype.”
Brooks said scoring well does not fall only on the students.
“As our principals and administrators you can ensure that your students are in the best learning environment possible by having books and other materials on time in addition to ensuring all students have correct schedules in the beginning of the school year,” Brooks said. “Making sure we have effective teachers in our classrooms is just as important.”
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Espisito-Visgitis, agreed with Brooks, and said she is ready to move forward as well.
“We’re not going to let one year that was off, there was a lot of good things about last year, but there were some things we’re disappointed about; We will not let that define us,” Vigitis said. “Our teachers have regrouped their efforts, we have doubled-down, and we intend to make Pittsburgh the world class district that it certainly has the potential to be and I want you to know that.”
Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent, Linda Lane, is also ready to move forward. She said even though there were below-par results in the report, it is just as important to focus on the good parts.
“Even though it is very important for us to go through and figure out the things that went wrong and why they did, and what can we do about it, and that’s most important what can we do about it, it’s also important to recognize the things that went well, and there were some things in there that I felt were that,” Lane said.
A+ School’s Carey Harris said one of the improvements made in the last year was increasing the number of students enrolled in advanced placement courses, and she expects even more students to register for AP courses next year. Overall, Harris said the priorities for the future include closing the achievement gap, improving high school level performance, and focusing on the specific schools making little to no progress in achievement.