Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When the results of the 2012 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment were released, it was immediately clear that there was a dramatic reduction in PSSA scores from 2011. These dips in test scores likely confirm what we have long suspected: that there is widespread cheating in Pennsylvania’s schools. However, this is not the whole story.

What was not readily apparent was the increasing achievement gap between white and minority students in our state.

PennCAN: The Campaign for Achievement Now’s analysis of the most recent PSSA results indicate that black and Latino students have fallen even further behind their white peers across Pennsylvania in the past academic year. The 2012 PSSA results provide alarming data about this widening achievement gap:

  • The statewide black-white achievement gap in reading increased by 12%.
  • The Latino-white achievement gap in reading increased by 5.4%.
  • The black-white achievement gap in math has increased by 16%.
  • The Latino-white achievement gap in math has increased by 12%.

It is obvious that Pennsylvania is not providing our black and Latino students with the education they deserve, and that our state’s educational system has not begun to close this achievement gap. Yet, Pennsylvania is one of very few states that has not filed a waiver for No Child Left Behind, meaning that our state is responsible for closing the achievement gap by 2014, a task which seems not only ambitious, but unattainable given this year’s results.

In addition to the widening achievement gap, this year’s PSSA results indicate that many of Pennsylvania’s best charter schools continue to outperform their local school districts. While only half of all Philadelphia School District students are proficient in both math and reading, 86% of Young Scholars Charter School students tested proficient in math, and 77% tested proficient in reading. At Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus, than 83% of students tested proficient in reading, and 68% tested proficient in math. In comparison, 62% of Pittsburgh’s students are proficient in math, and 59% are proficient in reading, as compared to Propel Charter School East which had 88% of students meet proficiency in math, and 78% in reading.

These charter schools’ results indicate that our schools can provide the best possible public education for our students. Rather than focus on the cheating scandal, Pennsylvania would be better served in asking how we can best serve all of our students.


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