HARRISBURG — Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a statewide organization dedicated to supporting policies that strengthen and support great public schools in every community to ensure opportunities for all children, applauds the delay in the use of Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores to calculate School Performance Profile scores and educator evaluations.
“It is very encouraging that the current administration sought this waiver from the U.S. Department of Education and understands that raising the bar that measures what students should know through the implementation of the new PA Core Standards on the PSSA test is a process,” said Susan Spicka, of Shippensburg, advocacy coordinator. “Because this is a new test, aligned to new standards, this is a baseline year, and it would be inappropriate to use these results to determine if a school or educator is doing better or worse than in the past. This is ‘Year 1’ in terms of getting data on how schools are doing at meeting the new standards.”
In March 2014 as part of a nationwide movement to create new standards (called the Common Core), the Pennsylvania Board of Education replaced the state’s academic standards with new Pennsylvania Core Standards, the first revision in 10 years. Spicka said these are very rigorous standards that significantly changed the content that students in Pennsylvania learn in public schools.
At the end of the 2014-15 school year, Pennsylvania students in grades three to eight took new PSSA tests that were based solely on the new Pennsylvania Core Standards. Spicka said the 2014 PSSAs are very different from the tests students took in previous years with a new format that includes some content that tested students a full grade or more earlier than on previous PSSAs.
Statewide, scores declined sharply. According to Spicka, on average in grades three to eight, the number of students scoring “advanced” or “proficient” dropped by 9.4 percent in language arts and by 35.4 percent in math.
“The tests have changed, not Pennsylvania’s students and schools,” Spicka said. “The scores demonstrate that the new tests are more rigorous and set to measure different standards than previous PSSAs because they contain new content. The scores also indicate that teachers and schools need time and resources to adapt and update the curriculum they are using to align to new standards. Students will need time and updated instructional materials in order to learn the new content on the tests and to develop further the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that these tests require. These updates can’t happen overnight.
“High standards for all students in Pennsylvania’s public schools are a good thing. Parents and community members should want students to graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in college or the 21st Century workforce. But if the state is going to raise standards and measure students, then the state must ensure that students have access to what they need to meet these new standards. It is essential that the state ensures that school districts have the resources necessary to ensure that curriculum and instruction are up to date and students have had a chance to learn the new content before information from the PSSA tests can be used in a meaningful way, and even then, standardized tests should only be one tool in a tool box for looking at learning.”
For more information visit www.educationvoterspa.org.