Pittsburgh Schools Fail to Meet Proficiency Standards

For Release

September 26, 2003

Although Pittsburgh's elementary and middle schools have higher average test scores than urban schools serving similar populations elsewhere in Pennsylvania, most students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools fail to meet state proficiency standards in reading and math, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.

The RAND Education report finds that, measured by the Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment, only 46 percent of Pittsburgh Public School students can read proficiently and only 39 percent can do math proficiently.

The report to the Mayor's Commission on Public Education goes on to say that, even though Pittsburgh's reading and math scores have improved faster than the state average over the past five years, achievement levels in the district remain well below average scores of schools statewide.

In addition, according to the report prepared by RAND Education researchers Brian Gill, Rachel Christina, Rebecca Clothey and Deanna Hill, the Pittsburgh Public Schools have significant gaps in achievement. Among Pittsburgh's African American students, only 31 percent can read proficiently and just 25 percent can do math proficiently—less then half the rates of proficiency of white students in the district, as measured by state standards.

Achievement also varies enormously between schools, the report found. Reading proficiency rates range from 3 percent to 91 percent, while math proficiency rates range from zero to 78 percent in Pittsburgh Public Schools. More than half the schools in the district have been cited by the state for failing to meet standards mandated by the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2003.

Low levels of achievement are ultimately reflected in low graduation rates, according to the report, which found that one-fourth of Pittsburgh's ninth-graders drop out before graduating from high school.

RAND's examination of the academic operations of the Pittsburgh Public Schools determined that, although the district has a number of strengths—including a highly experienced teacher corps, a comprehensive electronic data system, and promising initiatives in reading and mathematics—its efforts to improve achievement district-wide are hampered by a variety of problems as indicated in interviews with Pittsburgh educators.

The report found that “bickering among district leaders undermines instructional initiatives in the schools; the district's budgeting system leaves low-income children with the least-experienced teachers; and family and community engagement are inconsistent.”

The RAND report was issued in conjunction with the release by the Mayor's Commission on Public Education of its final report outlining recommendations for improving student achievement among the Pittsburgh School District's more than 37,000 students.

“Although there are no guarantees in education policy, the strategies proposed by the Commission are consistent with those that are being adopted in other districts around the country that are seeking high achievement for all students,” the RAND report says.

The RAND researchers earlier reported their findings to the Commission during the course of its deliberations, after the Commission had contracted with RAND to provide analytic support to its Student Performance Committee.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.