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Pittsburgh schools' 'progress': Sloppy practices

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Monday, April 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Real progress in financially strapped Pittsburgh Public Schools remains elusive — and harder to gauge than it should be, because of sloppy district practices.

Watchdog group A+ Schools' “2012 Report to the Community” says Pittsburgh Public Schools' 2011-12 average attendance was 94.4 percent in elementary schools and declined as grade levels rose, amounting to just 85.6 percent in high schools. And the high schools' average 2011 graduation rate was a disturbingly low 68.5 percent, suggesting far too many dropouts.

Carey A. Harris, A+ executive director, says the district's generally headed in the right direction, even though she can't say outcomes have changed for the better. But she does say district practices have — and cites actually tracking attendance as an example.

Also, according to Ms. Harris, some city schools not that long ago were neither taking attendance nor tracking students to identify those whose individual grades and attendance put them at risk for not graduating.

Harris says those shortcomings have been rectified. But with attendance and graduation data from prior years reflecting those sloppy practices, whatever baseline is used to measure progress inevitably is muddled.

And that means claims of real Pittsburgh Public Schools progress — whether made by the district, by groups such as A+, or by candidates in this spring's school board races — should be taken with extra grains of salt by city voters.

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