Approximately one third of fifth and eighth graders do not meet state proficiency standards in mathematics on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment examination (PSSA). In some districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, less than 40% of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders were PSSA-proficient in mathematics in 2005-06. Furthermore, the proportion of Pennsylvania students who demonstrate proficiency decreases from third to fifth and from fifth to eighth gradesthat is, during the middle-school years. This middle-grade drop-off is also especially pronounced for particular schools and districts. In one, albeit fairly extreme but nevertheless suggestive, example of this middle-grade drop-off in a district near Philadelphia, students who demonstrated proficiency in mathematics decreased from 61% to 19.4% through the middle-grade years.
While the absence of a statewide science assessment leaves unanswered the extent of the problems in middle-grade science, international and national data suggest pronounced problems there as well. In the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the most recent year for which state data are provided, the United States ranked lower than all but one (Israel) of the industrialized countries in terms of the mean scale score on science achievement. Of the 13 states included in the 1999 study, the mean eighth-grade science score in Pennsylvania was lower than that of any other highly urbanized state.
Pennsylvania certifies an average of more than 14,000 new teachers a year, making it the nation's sixth largest preparer of new teachers and a producer of more new teachers than the public schools hire. However, teacher shortages persist in both specific content areas and several high-need school districts. Only about 9% of all new Pennsylvania teacher certificates are issued in math and science each year; and more than 67% of Pennsylvania districts report teacher hiring challenges in science and 62% in math.