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Pittsburgh Public Schools make adequate gains in No Child Left Behind

| Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

Pittsburgh Public Schools became the largest school district in Pennsylvania to meet state standards for academic progress set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, district officials said Monday.

The second-largest district in the state, with about 27,000 students, made adequate yearly progress, a benchmark for attendance, graduation rates and performance instituted seven years ago.

"Pittsburgh can be the place that proves what an urban district can do," said Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. "We have a long way to go, and the challenge to all of us is to continue to restructure this district."

The news pleased parents, administrators and even critics, but there's overriding concern about students in the district's high schools. The high schools' overall performance on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests this year was "not acceptable," and the district needs to improve programs and parental involvement at that level, Roosevelt said.

"I want that to be the next big thing as my son moves up," said Annette Parker, 47, of the South Side, whose son Dewayne Hopewell is a fifth-grader in the district. "They still need to get the parents involved. Until that happens, the district isn't going anywhere."

This is the first time city schools made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, a goal Roosevelt set when he became superintendent four years ago. Initially, he anticipated it would take the district at least five years to reach the goal.

To make AYP, a district must meet a series of targets, including graduating at least 80 percent of students and achieving an attendance rate of at least 90 percent. The district hit 87.8 percent of all targets, missing 12 out of 98.

"You dream big, you work hard, you get results," said school board President Theresa Colaizzi. "Our children are better for it."

The state Department of Education would not confirm the district's achievement, but preliminary scores the district released last month showed a marked increase in reading scores.

Students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 are required to take the PSSA each spring under No Child Left Behind. State standards mandate that 56 percent of students test at least "proficient" in math, and 63 percent in reading. District-wide, 61.83 percent of Pittsburgh Public students tested proficient or advanced in math, 56.5 percent in reading.

A district can meet adequate yearly progress just by having all subgroups in one grade grouping — 3-5, 6-8 or 9-12 — achieve those standards. Race, special education needs, economic disadvantage, or limited English proficiency create subgroups. Pittsburgh met the targets in grades 3-5 only.

Annette Werner, a member of educational advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Educational Reform, said her group has concerns about dropout and graduation rates at the high school level. The district graduated a little more than 85 percent of students last year, a 10.8-percent increase since Roosevelt took over at the start of the 2005-06 school year.

"We need a clear plan going forward," Werner said.

Roosevelt agrees.

"Parent participation is key for doing a far better job," Roosevelt said. "Change is hard. Change is very hard and some people tell me change is even harder for Pittsburghers. But stress isn't caused by change, folks, it's caused by resistance to change."

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