HOORAY—Fourth grade students and teacher cheer in excitement for winning the Star award. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
by Rebecca Nuttall
In November, 10 schools in the Pittsburgh Public School District were recognized for growth in student achievement over the past two years. Designated as STAR schools, which stands for “Students and Teachers Achieving Results,” they were ranked among the top schools across the state.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to be recognized as a STAR school because what they were recognized in was moving students forward,” said Toni Allen, head of student support services at Sunnyside PreK-8, a STAR school. “So this is really about growth and development for students.”
The schools earned STAR status by ranking among the top 15 percent or 25 percent of Pennsylvania schools, according to student growth. The STAR awards also recognize school staff in special schools that have met student outcome criteria based on their student populations.
“I think it motivates teachers to work extremely hard and move their students forward,” Allen said. “If you are an effective teacher, you want to make sure you are working with your students and doing everything you can. It’s basically like your reputation is on the line.”
On Nov. 19, Sunnyside held a celebration in recognition of their STAR status to coincide with a district-wide celebration at Dilworth PreK-5 that same day. On Dec. 17, all of the schools received a proclamation from City Council naming the day STAR Schools Day.
“It’s something to be very proud of. It’s nice to be finally recognized for it, especially in a school like ours,” said Chris Warden, an instructional teacher leader at Sunnyside. “Even though our students come to us at varying levels of proficiency, by the time they reach eighth grade we have nearly 80 percent of them reaching proficient or advanced on the PSSA.”
The STAR rankings are determined by taking into account test scores beyond just overall PSSA scores. It also looks at additional factors such as student attendance and suspension rates.
“One of the new measures we’ve been using is (value added measure). So rather than just PSSA scores, VAM looks at where the kids are and where they have moved toward, so what value are we adding to our students,” Warden said. “What they try to isolate is the contribution the teacher makes to student growth.”
Teachers at schools receiving STAR recognition, who are members of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, will receive up to $6,000 in compensation. The STAR award is funded in large part by a grant from the federal Teachers Incentive Fund.
“It’s also nice to show how we’ve been collaborating as a staff. A lot of what we’ve been doing is teacher-to-teacher peer collaboration,” said Warden who teaches fifth grade social studies, science, and math. “We’ve freed up time to allow teachers to go into each others classrooms to observe best practices. So we’re really able to bounce ideas off of one another.”
The other schools receiving STAR recognition were Brookline PreK-8, Dilworth PreK-5, Fort Pitt K-5, Fulton PreK-5, Weil PreK-5, Whittier K-5, South Hills 6-8, Conroy, Pioneer and Oliver Citywide Academy. The schools had varying levels of demographic makeup with Weil having an African-American population of 95 percent and Brookline having an African-American population of 8 percent.