Gov. Tom Wolf announces PSSA testing reduction
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has announced a reduction in standardized testing for students in the commonwealth.
According to an Aug. 14 news release from the governor’s office, “the change to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment will reduce the length of the tests by 20 percent in grades three through eight.”
Wolf commented on the change during a “Schools That Teach” visit to Susquehanna Middle School, Dauphin County, with state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.
“As I have traveled the commonwealth on the Schools That Teach tour, I have heard from parents, students and educators concerned about the amount of time devoted to taking standardized tests,” Wolf said. “This reduction will ease the stress placed on our kids, and will allow students and teachers to focus more on learning than on testing. This change should also reassure parents that we’ve listened to their concerns about over-testing.”
The news release states the reduction in test time arose from discussions between the education department and stakeholders for nearly a year as it developed its Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated State Plan.
Beginning this school year, students and teachers in grades three through eight will spend an average 20 percent less time on statewide testing, and an even greater reduction — nearly 25 percent — for the state’s youngest students.
The state education department removed two sections — one in math, one in English language arts — and additional questions from the science section, which could eliminate up to two full testing days for some schools.
The math assessment will be shortened by 48 minutes for students in grades three through eight by removing a section of multiple choice questions.
In addition, the news relaease states the English language arts assessment will be shortened by 45 minutes and the science assessment will be shortened by 22 minutes.
Standardized tests are mandated under federal law, and can serve as important tools for schools to review their progress and achievement.
The news release states that standardized tests not only interrupt learning, but can also be disruptive for students, even those in non-testing grades. The department plans to continue to identify ways to further reduce those disruptions in coming years.
Wolf, according to the news release, has fought for Schools That Teach and has made investments in children and schools a top priority.
Over the past three years, Pennsylvania has:
·Increased state funding by more than $800 million at all levels after devastating cuts in the past that is bringing teachers back to the classroom and restore educational program.
·Established a fair funding formula to reduce the inequity in state support and taking Pennsylvania off a shameful list of states without a way to fairly fund their school. Pennsylvania was one of only three states in the nation without a fair funding formula.
·Doubled early childhood education access to provide nearly 8,800 more children access to Pre-K and Head Start programs to get a good start to their education.
·Increased graduation rates to among the highest in the nation for four-year high school from 85.5 percent in 2013-14 to 86.1 percent in 2015-16.
Additionally, 31 percent more students have earned industry-recognized credentials as Pennsylvania has become a national leader in STEM education, helping workers compete in the 21st century economy and build economic prosperity for working families.
Also this year, the department introduced the Future Ready PA Index, a new, public-facing school report card that expands the indicators used to measure performance and extends the comprehensive approach to ensuring student and school success.
The index will place additional emphasis on academic growth, evaluation of school climate through a robust chronic absenteeism measure, attention to both four-year and extended-year graduation rates, and assessments of postsecondary readiness.
The Press asked Northwestern Lehigh School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Anne Wright for comment on the changes.
“Last week I learned about the reduction in the testing by reducing one test session for language arts and another for math,” Wright emailed The Press. “I think the reduction is a good start. That decision directly increases time for interaction between the teachers and the students.
“In addition, I support the idea of moving the PSSA testing window to a later, more consistent time of the year.
“The more time teachers have to facilitate content and learning with the students before the testing, the more prepared our students will be.
“Later testing is a more natural process allowing children the maximum time in the instructional environment before testing grade level ELA and Math.
“I don’t yet know how the elimination of the test sections will factor into the scoring.
“I assume since the tests will eliminate a section, that the test results may not be comparable with the 2015, 2016 and 2017 PSSAs, but we will likely hear about that level of detail in spring.
“When the tests were redesigned for the 2015 implementation, it was difficult, if not impossible to know how cohorts improved.
“I anticipate that we will still be able to measure growth for individual students, but I am unsure how this change will allow/or not allow us to compare annual scores.
“All in all, I believe the reduction of the tests is a step in the right direction and I am hopeful that Pennsylvania’s ESSA plan is supported by the U.S. Department of Education.”
Parkland School District Superintendent Richard Sniscak spoke via telephone with The Press Aug. 15 regarding Wolf’s announcement.
“We believe it is a step in the right direction,” Sniscak said. “The governor and secretary [of Education Pedro Rivera] listened to the people out in the field.”
Sniscak said the state held a number of round table discussions, working on ways to decrease the time taken up by the PSSAs.
“Any goal is welcomed,” Sniscak said.
“State testing is not the sum and substance of the Parkland School District.”
He noted the standardized tests are used as a diagnostic tool at Parkland.
Details about the PSSA reduction and the Future Ready PA Index are available in Pennsylvania’s ESSA Consolidated State Plan, on PDE’s website. The plan is open for public comment until Aug. 31.
Editor’s note: See related Guest View on page A10.