Saturday, April 23, 2011

Analysis of the Pittsburgh Promise

Professors from the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems have done an analysis of "place-based college scholarships" including the Pittsburgh Promise. No link to the report has been located online, but here is an excerpt from the April 2011 paper, "PLACE-BASED COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS: AN ANALYSIS OF MERIT AID AND UNIVERSAL PROGRAMS":

"The Pittsburgh Promise and other merit aid programs primarily help students already planning to go to college to attend better quality colleges and reduce debt. These programs also produce a small increase in college enrollment, persistence, and completion rates, but they do not substantially improve K-12 student achievement, stop public school enrollment decline, or reduce poverty. Merit programs are also likely to substantially increase racial disparities in social and economic conditions since much higher percentages of white than black high school graduates receive the scholarship."

To improve K-12 achievement the report stated: "Most low-achieving students in center city school districts are minority and low-income. The best way to help these students is to provide comprehensive health, social, economic and educational services continuously from pre-birth through high school and additional assistance through college, as is done in the Harlem Children’s Zone."


Questioner said...

The report also noted that "The Pittsburgh Promise would be much more likely to improve college enrollment and completion rates, stop enrollment decline, and reduce poverty and racial disparities in the city if the maximum award were larger (such as full tuition at public colleges and universities in the state), nearly all graduates were eligible, the application procedure were simple, and graduates had more years after high school to use the award."

- This part of the recommendations seems unrealistic since the city is now having trouble funding even K-12 education.

Old Timer said...

The Pittsburgh Promise is a wonderful program, I understand that. Unfortunately, it has corrupted the thinking of a number of administrators in PPS because they are cognizant of the incredible public relations opportunity that it is for PPS.
As such, we have the 50% grading policy.
As such, we have outrageously poorly---let me restate the words "outrageously poor"--curriculum coming from PPS department heads, as dictated by Pitt's IFL---curricula implemented to ensure that kids pass and subsequently providing students with limited knowledge.
As such, we see all kinds of kids being kept in school after disrupting classes in any number of ways so as to "keep them on the pathway to the Promise"


No group has studied the obvious:
How many kids who utilize the Promise money are gone after a year or two of college? How many were ill prepared for college studies?


Anonymous said...

We can add to this conversation the new stipulation to get all of the Promise money. Now the students must score well on the PSSA standardized test. One would like to think that the idea behind setting this stipulation was to motivate students to perform better. However, ...

One way we know that an achievement gap exists is through performance on the PSSA. Therefore, the likelihood of a child who is African American getting this money is not as high as the likelihood of his/her White counterpart. The likelihood of a child who is economically disadvantaged is not as high as the likelihood of his/her more affluent counterpart.

One of the many measures used to
determine if a child has a disability is performance on assessments. By definition a student with a mental disability is usually performing well below grade level in at least one area. Therefore, the likelihood of a student with a diagnosed disability being able to achieve well enough on the assessment (grade level performance at the advanced or proficient level) to get this money is not high. The quantity of high incidence disabilities is always higher in urban areas.

By adding this stipulation, it is setting the stage for students who are white, NOT economically disadvantaged, and NOT labeled with a disability as being the ones who get the most money.

Does this sound motivational or discriminatory?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Old Timer that the Pgh Promise is a good program. The problem is that it is good for only a select few.

Many people have suggested that the Gates money be used to provide the types of services mentioned in the original post - social services, mental health services, etc. By taking care of the whole child, it would better prepare them for life after high school. It would better prepare them to be able to take advantage of the Promise money.

That suggestion fell upon deaf ears. Instead you see LARGE amounts of money being used for merit pay - which research has shown over and over again does NOT work in education. LARGE amounts of money are being used for experimental programs such as the Teacher Academy.

The sad thing is that in the current state of education where money is being taken away from education and away from kids, Pittsburgh has a lot of money - but it is earmarked for ridiculous, unproven programs rather than going to provide much needed services to our students.

Anonymous said...

It is generally agreed in all "communities" that Broad and the Gates money has corrupted the education of PPS students. The people "in charge" at "341" have very little, if any, understanding of how to educate, to motivate, to inspire or to even "reach" our city's children.

Unfortunately, few at "341" will acknowledge their failure (and it belongs to them, no one else). Few are true educators, teachers, leaders, thinkers, or problem-solvers or there would not be the problems that exist. They believe their own PR. as an escape from reality. It will take a massive uprising from all taxpayers/citizens (whose children are not at CAPA, Sci-Tech, Obama) to reverse the spiraling downward course of K-12 education in PPS so often described in this blog.

There is a public hearing on Monday!

Old Timer said...

And you hit the nail on the head, anon---mass uprising. Isn't it funny how the last mass uprisings--those of the 1960's---were scoffed at and yet, the civil rights movement brought change. The outrage over Vietnam forced a nation to re-examine its own Sgt.York image. Those protesters, the subject of scorn via politicians and media heads, are now looked upon as people of conviction, of backbone, of character.

And that type of American is now a real minority.

Roosevelt is just one in a long line of politicians who knew this, of course. His dealings during the closure of Schenley were textbook corporate leadership 101. Let that small few have their say and it will go nowhere. Time will relegate the entire debate to that of being inconsequential.

The apathy is all around us, of course. How else does one explain 8 years of the worst leadership in the history of this nation? How else does one explain a war based upon lies that cost over 4000 American men and women their lives?
And funny as it sounds, we're putting those people back in positions of leadership.

I digress, but the point remains, times have changed. This country was built upon protest and dissent and yet today, you are more likely to get a rise out of the average Pittsburgher if you talk about the NFL strike, the billions behind it and the possibility of no football than of our childrens' educations.


bystander said...

Old Timer at 7:10, if the few first year college students I had contact with this past weekend are any indication, there are plenty who are redesigning the plan to get where they want to go. At the very least, the stats on kids entering CCAC for year two of their college education should be an indication of lack of preparedness. Sure a kid might have made it through the first year at an away-from home campus, but the investment in time, money, travel and hard work forces a kid to look hard at scaling back the plan for now and easing into the next phase.

I have to believe the analyisis has been done but the conclusions are not published and a plan is being thought out, dontcha think?

For The Promise to have had a more merit based component would have been helpful, especially for students who do not (on-paper) meet financial need requirements of other scholarships. Perhaps a better plan for the getting additional dollars from The Promise would have been to use each year's college GPA in order to qualify. The SAT qualification factor might be useful as an incentive, but really...The PSSA? Not all kids take it seriously enough. Maybe campaign to get 3rd graders to believe it is a gift to take the test and carry the strategy from year-to-year?

Questioner said...

One of the goals may be to get kids to take the PSSA more seriously. A concern would be that if scores go up, PPS takes it as a sign that curriculum and other changes are working when really improvement may just be due to changed incentives.

Anyway, it would have been nice if there had been discussion about the design of the program initially, rather than the district presenting it as a done deal.

Anonymous said...

If kids do not take the PSSA "seriously enough" there is a reason and that reason cannot be laid at the feet of the kids. These "reasons" can easily be reversed, but not with "incentives" which should never be the reason for achievement. Unfortunately, in PPS everything is set up to be extrinsically motivated as opposed to Intrinsically. Philosophically and psychologically, PPS administration believes/implements a Pavlovian theory and applies it as a one-size-fits-all model across grades and content areas. As a result, we are seeing the demise of PPS.

Anonymous said...

Bystander said: For The Promise to have had a more merit based component would have been helpful, especially for students who do not (on-paper) meet financial need requirements of other scholarships.

Um, the Promise IS merit-based and NOT need-based. That was sort of the point of the article! It compared our PGH Promise plan to others -- ones that go with anyone who has graduated, one that has a 10 year windown in which to use the funds (I LOVE this idea, don't know if it's addressed at all in the Promise? I assume you can at least take a year off and still get it?)

Anonymous said...

"Will" "our" "comments" "be" "more" "convincing" "if" "we" "put" "our" "words" "in" "quotation" "marks"?

Anonymous said...

Not at all, however, there is a reason for quotation marks. They indicate reference to the words used by someone else just previous to the entry.

Some of us learned our English lessons, perhaps, too well, for 9:29. (Sorry it need your criticism in such a way?)

Anonymous said...

If kids do not take the PSSA "seriously enough" there is a reason and that reason cannot be laid at the feet of the kids. These "reasons" can easily be reversed, but not with "incentives" which should never be the reason for achievement.

Do we really want them to take them all that seriously? Learning and education, sure, I want that to be serious, interesting and intrinsically motivated.

But standardized tests? Those are hoops. Hoops are for jumping through successfully, not for intrinsic motivation. Same goes for the SAT etc. Trying to convince kids that they matter as more than hoops seems like a losing proposition (has been so far).

Teaching them the reason to jump through hoops from time to time to achieve bigger goals -- that's (for better or worse) a life lesson.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with you on most "standardized tests" and the SAT. However, it is very important to ask the next question: Do you understand the structure of the PSSA or what it is assessing or why? Perhaps a short course in PSSA would help dramatically shift the attitude being expressed. I sincerely believe that you would see it quite differently. The thinking skills being assessed on PSSA are skills that EVERYONE would want their children to possess. It is not a content test!

ALL children can learn these skills when properly embedded and consciously taught in every situation or experience (not just textbooks or written materials).

When we communicate the attitudes expressed in the previous entry to children, they hear it, see it and respond accordingly. They dismiss what we dismiss and if we understood the thinking skills being assessed we would not want them to be dismissed,

Adults and children need to understand what thinking skills are being assessed and I guarantee you that these skills will not be dismissed as unimportant to living a successful life for the long term.

bystander said...

Sorry 9:25, I should have been more clear. Yes, PP is merit based, but having a second tier of qualifications to be met in the initial rollout might have proven to be the way to get the attention of the mid-level performers, a way for each to up his game.

Anonymous said...

9:49: Since you claim "hoops" and learning to jump through hoops are the reason for the PSSA, can you please give one example of a "hoop" that you analogized with a PSSA skill so that we are clear about your assertion.

Anonymous said...

There are assessed skills at each level of the PSSA. There are released tests at each level of the PSSA.

These are valuable grade level skills, yes. However, the format of the test and the way they are scored makes them very amenable to "prep" type skills as well.

They ask questions in certain ways (and not in others), they rate certain formats of answers more highly than others and that can be taught as well.

What I currently see is younger students who think the PSSA is *the* score that tells them what kind of student and thinker they are and that is really not true. It affects how they pay attention and how much value they give to school as a whole.

We have a curriculum that doesn't even address hitting the PSSA high points in a logical order or in a way that leaves some time for test prep type activities and review before the test. It is assumed that all the questions and touchy feely learning as a group will translate into understanding the wording of specific items on the PSSA and that's ridiculous.

The PSSA tests very few "thinking" skills that are not just test-taking or content issues. None, maybe and honestly, how could it? It tests basic skills -- as it should, but how meaningful is it beyond that? No one test meant for all kids in a grade with a mainly multiple choice format could be much more meaningful

Anonymous said...

1:51:It would be important to know where you got this information. Clearly, you are very misinformed and that is not meant to critical of your assumptions or perceptions, since they appear to be held by the majority of people.

These are not grade level skills and they are not scored in the way that casts doubt and while PPS believes in "prep" that is the worst possible way to address this assessment.

There are many statements made in you post that I would certainly agree with if the premise were accurate, but it is difficult to agree when the premise is faulty or flawed.

Again, not only does the district (administrators and teachers) need a short course in the construct of the PSSA, but even more importantly would be INFORMED student, parent and community groups. If this could be accomplished, we could then address questions (If some still remained), values, and strategies for mastery of the "thinking skills" which ARE the assessment, contrary to your assertions.

Also, let me ask again if anyone who challenges what has been set forth here would provide just one example of a skill that is assessed and why it should be 'dismissed', we could BEGIN to clear up the confusion around PSSA.

Questioner said...

Anon, why don't you kick off the examples by providing an example of a question and the "thinking skill" it is assessing?

Anonymous said...

1:51: Your post on the content, elements, skills, (or lack thereof), grade levels, ratings, format, etc. reveals a total lack of knowledge about the structure and/or value of the PSSA test. Where did you get this information?

Anonymous said...

What are examples of the basic skills that you state should be tested? Why, if they are basic skills, do the majority of PPS children do so poorly on the PSSA? Are they not being taught the basic skills? If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

These are not grade level skills

I'm not even sure what you are talking about are you saying that the PSSA doesn't align with the state standards? Are you saying it doesn't test specific skills/content knowledge?

For anyone wanting to know what a PSSA looks like and what skills are "eligible content" at a certain grade level:

Each grade tested has a breakdown of the tested concept and a sample question or questions.

If you want to see many more questions, google "PSSA" and take the first link -- you'll see sample questions and scoring.

Anonymous said...

It also might be important to those interested to KNOW that the Reading PSSA is a "text dependent" assessment!

That means that ALL answers are contained within the text/article/passage.

NO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IS NECESSARY, except how to THINK and use the thinking skills that allow you to identify, discern, use context clues, summarize, infer, analyze, summarize, sequence, distinguish fact from opinion, conclude based on evidence, identify cause and effect, , make comparisons and contrasts, etc.

ALL of these "thinking skills" can be taught situationally and textually, at any grade level in any content area!

Anonymous said...

3:28: Yes, the PSSA is assessing State Standards. The Reading State Standards passed into LAW in 1999 are NOT content standards meaning no particular novels or authors are a part of the test. In other words, you could have an African-Centered or completely culturally relevant curriculum and still have your students "ace" the PSSA. The "thinking skills" or "eligible content" can be taught via any fiction or non-fiction content!

I am taking a break now and will return if there are further explanations needed.

Questioner said...

Went to the link noted above; do not see any sample test questions. It would be helpful to have just one sample test question along with a list of the "thinking skills" tested by that question.

If the PSSA is a useful test- why do the private and parochial schools not make use of it?

Anonymous said...

From that link, you need to pick a grade level and open an "assessment anchor glossary" choosing either PDF or Word format.

Anonymous said...

Because they choose not to be held accountable. There is not need for many reasons.

Anonymous said...


Do you not think that knowing those terms is a useful skill in taking those tests? That is, children should know what is meant by imply or inference if they are going to successfully answer that question?

If personification is a tested concept, do you or do you not think that is teachable?

Obviously with reading, any grade-level text containing the needed elements is available to use. The content is the terms and the ability to read at that grade level.

Questioner said...

When you open an "anchor assessment" there are no examples of questions, just lists of skills such as:

R8.A.1.1 Identify and apply the meaning of vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

Sorry! Below the glossary section --> grade-level, then it has plain "assessment anchor" for each grade in either PDF or Word.

It has the state standard listed, then on the right at the top the specific skills and below an example or examples.

Questioner said...

Not finding specific questions, only lists of skills:

R8.A.1 Understand fiction appropriate to grade level.
R8.A.1.1 Identify and apply the meaning of vocabulary.
R8.A.1.1.1 Identify and/or apply meaning of multiple-meaning words used in text.
R8.A.1.1.2 Identify and/or apply a synonym or antonym of a word used in text.
Items that measure the Assessment Anchors will relate back to a reading passage. Students may reread the passage to help determine the best answer. See the item sampler for sample items.
A single vocabulary question may take two different styles: one that reprints the sentence from the passage or one that refers back to the word in the passage. Every multiple-choice stem on the test will be followed by four options.
1.1.8.E Expand a reading vocabulary by identifying and correctly using idioms and words with literal and figurative meanings.
1.1.8.F Understand the meaning of and apply key vocabulary across the various subject areas.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what is meant by "p0-tay-to." It has absolutely nothing to do with the Standards or PSSA!

And,YES, personification is the easiest skill to teach on the PSSA. Every early childhood, pre-k book is full of personification (any animal, object, etc. that takes on the qualities of a human being ie, speaking, acting, doing, feeling etc. is an example of personification). Three-year olds can learn this and DO! However, we have 8th and 11th graders who consistently miss this on a PSSA because no one has TAUGHT them what personification is. Some have never even heard the word!

The same is true of "imply" and "infer." Adults do it all of the time, but do they give it a name, probably not. In schools students are very typically taught to skim and scan for answers. Therefore, they do not know that if they are being tested on "inference" that they will not find the answer by skimming and scanning. Make sense??

The PSSA is easily mastered. It is a minimum competency test on "thinking" not finding concrete statements of fact in the text.

In the schools where I have worked it took only a few months to teach the skill that raised PSSA scores from 20 to 30 percentage points in the first few months of professional development. The rise and fall of a few points each year in PPS is an absolute disgrace. This is doable, but not with the current curriculum and instruction protocols being used in PPS. And they REFUSE to change.

A book could be written on this whole topic using PRIMARY sources!

Anonymous said...

The PSSA is easily mastered. It is a minimum competency test on "thinking" not finding concrete statements of fact in the text.

In the schools where I have worked it took only a few months to teach the skill that raised PSSA scores from 20 to 30 percentage points in the first few months of professional development. The rise and fall of a few points each year in PPS is an absolute disgrace. This is doable, but not with the current curriculum and instruction protocols being used in PPS. And they REFUSE to change.

What potayto/potahto means is that what you're saying above and what I'm saying are...pretty much the same thing.

I AGREE that it's basic/easily mastered/minimum competency (at least to be proficient).

I agree that a month of good review can get big gains.

However, those things don't go with it being a "thinking" test! These three things together don't compute.

Finding inferences is one step from the text. It doesn't require great thought. It does require the ability to READ at grade level.

I can also guarantee that those kids you're teaching HAVE heard that word before. They told the teacher the year before that they hadn't heard it either, and the one before that, too.

You'll see the same thing in math -- you'll be teaching content that was already covered, but you'll not realize it was covered by the blank looks you get when you ask about it.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. When I open Grade 3 Math I see a problem on the second page: "Jake is 47 inches tall, Mike is 39 inches tall...."

For the reading, you will have to go to the other link (Google PSSA, take first result I'll put the link below too) -- scroll down to "Reading Resources" and you'll see sample questions.

Anonymous said...

5:39 and 5:44:
Please read 3:34. Do you agree or disagree that the skills cited there are "thinking skills"? It should not be about "test prep" or "review" a month before, that was not the message being sent. If the skills cited ( although this is an incomplete list) are embedded in every teaching learning situation across content areas, grade levels, and formatively assessed in daily teacher-student interactions, students will become proficient in the course of (hopefully) normal day to day instruction.

To questioner and others: All of what you are finding (googling, etc.) on standards, assessment anchors, glossaries, eligible content, sample questions are MEANINGLESS in isolation. You cannot present a cogent argument for or against PSSA using these terms. When I do professional development on the issues being discussed here in a very limited way, it takes all day for the presentation and workshop with day to day followup in classrooms on teaching, learning and assessment in the fullest complement of their meaning.

Please do not attempt to reduce it to very limited interpretation and guessing!

Questioner said...

Anon, at 3:28 you provided a link, then at 7:56 you said it was meaningless.

The vocabulary questions are an example of qustions that do involve content knowledge and cannot be resolved based solely on "thinking skills."

Anonymous said...

When I do professional development on the issues being discussed here in a very limited way, it takes all day for the presentation and workshop with day to day followup in classrooms on teaching, learning and assessment in the fullest complement of their meaning.

Are you doing this in the PPS? What is your explanation for the inability of the PPS to show any big gains via years of PDs in these skill areas?

You're saying that all of these skills have been embedded all along...and yet, we're not seeing results. Why is that?

Do you argue with the contention that a child won't be proficient on a PSSA if they can't read the grade-level passages because their reading skills are several years behind?

What I've seen happening over the last 5 or so years is that kids in the district, particularly lower performing kids DESPISE reading. They hate reading because they know they are going to be faced with a barrage of "thinking" questions afterwards. All of the pleasure, fun, and even knowledge to be gained from reading have been systematically drained out of the experience. The worse you score, the more likely this is to happen.

I can't tell if you're arguing that the PSSAs are or should be the be all and end all assessment, either. Do you really think they're a delicate assessment instrument?

Anonymous said...

Questioner: I did NOT provide any links, since I believe them to be meaningless in isolation for those with limited information, knowledge and experience.

Hmmm. What made you think that I provided the link. Careful not to make assumptions! I am not 3:28! Rather, 2:37, 9:20, 9:42, 10:03, 1:03, 3:07. 3:17, 3:34, 3:49, 9:42, 10:03, 10:50, 1:03, 3:07, 5:27, and 7:56,

Anonymous said...

To 11:05 _ NO, PPS refuses all such professional development; its not Broad or Gates related.

Clearly, the claim by PPS is that they are embedded, but the evidence for this cannot be found and teachers who know deny it. Rather the emphasis is IFL related with "gist" etc.

I agree with your conclusions on what is happening with reading. Children, as you say, "despise" what is forced upon them, scripted, questioned to absurdity, and not of relevance or interest, nor selected by them. The PSSA thinking skills are important skills that become a part of a process that children should be enjoying and feeling fulfilled and successful. 4Sight exacerbates the whole problem in PPS and should be terminated post haste.

Good teachers know how to teach in ways that children will learn at high levels and enjoy learning.
This is not permitted to happen in PPS much to the dismay of ALL.

There is much more to say but enough is enough.

Questioner said...

OK, then at 3:07 you asked for "just one example" and then when examples are sought and discussed, you suggest that the "information, knowledge and experience" of other commentators is too limited to address PSSA testing.

Anonymous said...

You misunderstand, I only wanted an example of what the writer at April 25, 1:51, thought or was using as a basis for the comment posted. The long comment was so inaccurate in MOST of what it said I wanted to start with a specific correction that would address a specific example of misconception as it was impossible to set all of it right.

When I say that I would take more than a day to provide the understanding necessary to enable teachers to act on the information with students, it was not an exaggeration.

I might also say, that when that happens, the light goes on, "It makes sense!" for teachers and they insist on additional P.D. The dramatically improved results, as I said 20 to 30 percentage point improvement, can happen very, very quickly and not from "drill and kill" or "teaching to the test" or "test prep" or extended "review" or suffocating "questioning" but by making connections to life and literature (fiction and non-fiction.)

I understand that you (collective) want to dismiss the whole notion of PSSA being "thinking skills" that can be taught and embedded, seamlessly, with student understanding and greatly improved test scores on the summative (one test) that is required by NCLB. It seems too, too simple.