Layoffs, budget problems, dropping enrollment and now a decline in achievement scores. It seems Pittsburgh City schools cannot catch a break. Even with expenditures above $20,000 per pupil and a scholarship program that promises every graduate with a minimal grade average thousands of dollars to attend college, the District simply cannot move the dial on 11th grade achievement as measured by SAT scores or PSSA results. Hence the graduation rate is stuck and the numbers of school age children in the City continues its decades long slide.
Now comes news that in the 2011-2012 school year, District PSSA scores fell with only 8th graders making any progress. And as we have written about before, there is something peculiar about 8th grade testing, especially in math.
As a result of the drop in PSSA scores and failure to improve graduation rates, Pittsburgh schools failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress criteria as set out in the No Child Left Behind program with whatever stigma that implies. The big problem for Pittsburgh schools is the inability to move the scores for 11th graders at most of the City’s schools. The improvement at lower grades is nice but unavailing if 11th graders are unable to perform at anything like expected levels. No wonder the exodus of high school age children is so great.
Sarcastically borrowing from Carl Sagan, we can say, billions and billions and billions of dollars poured into K-12 education and what do we get? The lowest SAT reading scores and a combined drop of 18 points in reading and math over the last five years. "No child left behind" appears to have turned into "more students lagging behind". In fairness to Mr. Sagan we are talking about hundreds of billions upon hundreds of billions of dollars to achieve this sorry result.
The latest report from the College Board, the firm administering the SAT tests, informs us that, according to their research, a combined score of 1550 on reading, writing and math seems to be necessary to achieve a successful freshman year at college. Only 43 percent of test takers scored that high in the 2011 round of exams.
What does that mean for the nearly 60 percent who fell below the 1550 level? Will they not get into college? No, it means that additional billions of dollars will be spent on remedial education by the colleges. It means that extra years will be spent getting a four year degree-time essentially wasted by the students and classroom space. It means lower admission standards. It means continued dilution and degradation of the educational quality received. It means more watered down, politically correct course offerings in subjects that have little or no relevance to any post-graduation job skill requirements.
The SAT scores point to a disastrous waste of resources and a dumbing down of the American student population at a time when our students already lag far behind those in other countries in math and science. But the educational establishment refuses to adopt measures that might have a chance of turning the situation around. And it is time to ask the question. Is college really the best post high school choice for many of these kids? Are we setting them up for failure in higher education when there are careers in which they can make a good living and be happy in their work with a high school diploma and some specialized training?