Tuesday, September 15, 2009

State/ Pittsburgh PSSA comparison

At yesterday's public hearing, PURE Reform presented charts comparing State of Pennsylvania and City of Pittsburgh PSSA scores over the past four years. The complete presentation including charts is at http://www.purereform.com/test_091409.html

From PURE's report:

First, it is interesting how city scores and state scores tend to follow the same trajectory, rising and falling from year to year by similar percentages. In other words, each time the scores went up or down in the PPS, these results were nearly identical in the statewide results. This pattern raises the question of whether tests are easier or more difficult in particular years. We will be following up on that question.

Second, we all know that urban school districts tend to have lower levels of proficiency than the state average. However, we were interested in how the PPS is doing in closing the gap between local and state scores. What we found is that for most grades the gap has pretty much stayed the same or grown. Out of the scores evaluated from 2004-05 to 2008-09, only four comparisons showed any decrease in the gap between PPS and statewide scores while ten comparisons showed no change or an actual increase in the gap. These findings make it clear that we have much work to do to ensure that our students are prepared to be competitive in an increasingly competitive job market.


Questioner said...

Coincidentally, on the same day the NYT published an article addressing the issue of whether NYS was making its state test easier to pass by lowering the number of correct questions necessary to pass ("passing" seems to be comparable to being "proficient"). The article is at:


PPSparent said...

This links in nicely to your findings about how well this administration has done in achieving its own stated goals.

Their mandate wasn't to just mirror the performance of the state as a whole (at a lower level), but to close the gap. If scores were still lower, but there was a clear trend toward gap closing, that would be reason to cheer.

However, there seems to be nothing of the sort. Whatever we've been doing here, with all sorts of fanfare, seems to have been achieved across the state as well, with lots less fanfare.

Old Veteran said...

No matter, the accomplishments of PPS this past year were commendable by any definition.
As an educator who will soon be entering his third decade of teaching, I continue to find inspiration from our students and hope that our students find inspiration from me. What is personally very troubling to me in all of this is the reluctance to spread the praise around. Administration seems to have received the lion's share, and that's fine. Teachers deserve a great deal of praise and so do our students and their parents. Whether in a standardized test sense or in terms of general academic achievement, accomplishment is very much a team effort. It would appear that in all of the back slapping going on down at Bellefield Avenue these days, the efforts of teachers and students is subject to the back seat in favor of a "See, I told you so" braggadocio.
Perhaps this would strike me as being simple human nature were it not for the fact that once again, we will be hearing about "learning walks" taking place at schools in which retired administrators and administrators who spent relatively little if any time in the classroom will be making comments and critiques about what they see. Perhaps that administrators have recently been directed to actively focus--or "target"--teachers during their meetings once again tells me that where the idea of team is concerned, the most important members seem to be people not in the classroom, at least to those in positions of authority.
To someone who is also a taxpayer, this mentality seems out of whack.

Questioner said...

Thank you for your insights Old Vet. It would help to know if the accomplishments of the past year are similar to the accomplishments of every school year, or greater in some way? Also were these "learning walks" new in the last year or so, and is there a particular person or department in charge of them?

It does seem that teachers should be the first ones asked for answers to questions such as why students they know may have fallen short of standards- and to receive recognition when these issues are corrected.

Old Veteran said...

I am most proud of our students because that while this is an urban district, a study of just who has fled city schools over the past few years makes it clear that one is not talking about drop-outs or students with learning disabilities but rather, students who achieve. For a litany of reasons, parents are determining that the Catholic school/charter school/private school/cyber school is the way to go. It's somewhat like winning the pennant when a number of your all stars have gone to greener pastures. So yes, I believe this was a landmark year.

As far as learning walks go, I believe they began in force last year with the current way of think. These teams descend upon schools and visit classrooms what are supposed to be non evaluative observations, but the list of teachers who were dressed down by their principals is disconcerting. To be truthful, long term teachers look at these sessions as being more of check-ins to see that the curriculum is being followed in all subject areas. We also have a sense of humor in realizing that few of the observers were ever even in the classroom, or at least not for very long.

My career goes back to the time of Dick Wallace. I've seen my share of changes of philosophy. At no time did I ever have a mistrust of the people in charge.I certainly do now. The idea of getting rid of teachers, as put forth to administrators recently, is again disheartening. I'm not naive enough to believe every teacher is effective, but telling principals to actively seek to dismiss teachers can only make me wonder if education has become a corporate structure. I'm at a loss to understand how a district or company can be so top heavy in office personnel, administrative and otherwise, while giving short shrift to the workers on the production line.

Questioner said...

We had been wondering if progress may have been masked by a larger than usual number of higher achieving students leaving the district... and this kind of "frontline view" is invaluable. Thank you again Old Vet!

solutionsRus said...

Old Veteran, just curious, have you heard specifically that the new teacher evaluations are aimed at getting rid of teachers or is it just based on the administration's track record? You also mentioned a study of the students that have fled the district and their academic make up. What study is this? Has it been made available to the public?

I have also been a veteran of the PPS (in a parent/volunteer capacity) and have witnessed not just ineffective teachers, but downright horrible ones (along with many fabulous, inspirational ones as well). So it is with some hope that I greet the new teacher evaluations. There seems to me to be nothing wrong with identifying and trying to develop ineffective teachers and if that is not possible, to dismiss them.

That being said, I am very cynical of any programming that comes from this administration. It might be very difficult to have a truly objective evaluation when politics and personality get involved. And great teachers should not feel hamstrung by "learning walks" and fear for their jobs. In addition, I am a strong advocate for higher teacher compensation (teaching is one of the MOST important professions in our country) as well as the appropriate supports that would free teachers from menial paperwork and provide more opportunity for innovative teaching and parent engagement.

I second questioner's comments that having this type of sharing of information from people on the front line is invaluable. Let's keep up the constructive dialogue!

Old Veteran said...

Questioner, Solutions, many thanks for your comments and thanks for having such a good site. I am glad that I found it.
Where student population decline is concerned, I am going by observation. To most old veterans like myself, what we have seen leaving our schools over the last few years especially are achieving students. In tracking students who are to come to high school from a K-8, we often wonder why a prospective PSP or CAS kid has gone to a private school. I'm not sure any study has been done, but any high school counselor will back the idea up that what we are losing are our PSP and higher kids.
And to be sure, I am not losing lower achieving kids each year.
This is why I believe that the PSSA scores are such a feather in the cap of teachers. Unofficial observations may be dubious, but again, I would state that most teachers who have a keen sense of the student population see a decline in numbers where achievers are concerned as opposed to five years ago...a substantial decline.

You make note of the idea that good teachers need not fear learning walks. I disagree. Good teachers are harder to determine under the guidelines of canned curriculum, whether it is now being called "managed" or "Scripted". Does someone who was never or rarely in the classroom know what is effective? Does he or she rely upon what other administrators? The criteria is all too mysterious.
Look, the wheat has been separated from the chaffe over the years by principals who saw their budgets slashed and had to cut salaries. What you have now are agendas being pushed and examples being made.
Teacher effectiveness isn't the issue. I'd submit that most teachers are effective. The issue is how to maximize our students' abilities. A few administrators who I am friendly with agree and wonder why the message they are getting at their meetings is one that entails targeting teachers.
It runs counter to helping our kids.It runs contrary to what their views about teachers are.

Administrations come and go. Hopefully, this one will soon go, as well. And just as hopefully, teachers will have long memories with regards to people whose arrogance trumped the mandate each of us have.
Thanks again.

Questioner said...

A very powerful post by Old Vet!

The focus on teachers seems to be coming from the Gates Foundation and research about the importance of the quality of the teacher in determining student achievement. We'll plan on looking more closely at the studies that were done, the other variables examined, and how this research may apply or not apply to teachers required to follow tightly controlled curricula.

Questioner said...

And, once again there is the question of why some of the many consulting contracts being awarded are not focused on how to retain and even attract students back to the PPS system. The Pittsburgh Promise is a nice benefit but schools need to be attractive in their own right.

solutionsRus said...

Old Veteran, you misunderstood my comment about "learn walks". I am in agreement that teachers should not have to be constrained by these types of evaluations that are trying to ensure compliancy to an over structured curriculum.

I also agree with Questioner that we should evaluate studies that the Gates foundation is using. After all, they were the ones that gave us small schools and then said that small schools don't work!

aparent said...

Within the last month The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper carried an article reporting the increases in enrollment at Catholic schools is occuring at the high school level. The article supports what I have said for many years, the strengths in PPS are in elementary grades. Catholic schools servicing up to grade 8 have declining enrollment. Observing what occurs in my community is very much in line with what Veteran observes. High achieving students opt out of PPS for high school. Maybe the trend will reverse itself when The Pittsburgh Promise award for college jumps to 10,000 per year for 2012 and beyond grads. Until then drive around the South Hills and see how many lawns carry a sign advertising open house at Seton.