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'State of the District' report is mixed for Pittsburgh schools

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 1:06 p.m.

Pittsburgh schools Superintendent Linda Lane on Thursday gave a mixed account of the financially struggling school system, saying a scholarship program helped thousands of students attend post-secondary schools but the graduation rate is down for seniors.

Lane's report on the state of the district was made three days after watchdog group A+ Schools released its own glum picture of the district's financial and academic progress in 2012.

Although state test scores in reading and math posed “a setback” this year, district “progress has been slow and steady,” Lane said.

She said the A+ report focused more on test scores from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA exams, and her report is broader. Lane modeled it after a report conducted in Des Moines, where she once worked.

District administrators have said city schools could be broke by 2015. The district is reviewing proposals it sought from experts to assist in shoring up its budget.

Lane pointed to an in-house survey that shows 74 percent of parents are satisfied with their children's social and academic progress in Pittsburgh Public Schools. That finding is good, she said, but “I think 80 percent should be the goal.”

The remaining respondents indicated they were dissatisfied or neutral, and 69 percent said they would recommend their child's school to others.

More than 4,000 parents participated in the survey this year.

Lane's report analyzed Pittsburgh schools in finance and enrollment, achievement, effectiveness, equity, and satisfaction.

She found, among other things:

• More than 3,200 graduates are enrolled in 91 colleges, universities and training schools through The Pittsburgh Promise, a program that gives scholarships worth $40,000 over four years. However, the graduation rate declined from 70 percent for the Class of 2011 to 68.5 percent for the Class of 2012.

• After implementing a more systematic approach to evaluating teachers, the percentage of teachers rated “highly proficient” declined. Last year, 89 percent of teachers were rated “proficient” or “distinguished” after evaluations that examined 24 points of teacher practice. In 2008-09, when a different evaluation system was used, 99 percent of teachers received a satisfactory rating and less than 1 percent were rated unsatisfactory.

• The number of seniors taking the SAT increased by nearly 40 percent between 2008-09 and 2011-12, but the report did not give specific numbers.

“(SAT) scores are honestly down but we do believe it's important to take the SAT,” Lane said.

To view the report, go to www.stateofthedistrict.org.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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