State Testing in PA Gets a Trim

The governor of Pennsylvania joined the secretary of education during recent announcements that students and teachers in the state would spend 20 percent less time on high stakes assessments. Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, joined Secretary Pedro Rivera as well as teachers and parents to broadcast the news that the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) would be reduced for students in grades 3–8. The math portion would lose 48 minutes by dropping a section of multiple-choice questions; the English testing would be shortened by 45 minutes by eliminating a section; and the science exam would be eclipsed by 22 minutes.

Those revisions will divert test preparation and testing time back to regular classroom instruction, adding about two days, according to one estimate. The shortening will take place in spring 2018, when the state undertakes its online testing.

Presently, PSSA exams take place during a three-week testing window, with specifics set by individual school districts, and that schedule will stay in place for the current academic year. However, for test administration in 2019, the Department of Education expects to shorten the window and shove it toward the end of the year to give teachers more time for instruction and to reduce the amount of class schedule disruption. The changes have been underway for a year, during which the department held discussions with interested people as part of development of its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plan.

According to Wolf, the changes were made at the request of "parents, teachers and students." "This reduction to the PSSA is an important step to giving students and teachers more time for learning while maintaining the accuracy of the test and reducing the burden on the kids," he said in a prepared statement.

One parent, Cynthia-Grace Devine-Kepner, a member of the State Parent Advisory Council, said she was "thrilled" with the modifications. "This change allows our kids to focus more on learning in the classroom which will help them to better prepare for success throughout their life."

Lorena Mitchell, a seventh-grade math teacher at Pittsburgh Colfax K-8, added that the reduction in testing time "could equate to two full days that I can use in my classroom to help maintain structure and focus on educating the students."

"Although standardized tests are still required by the federal government and can provide meaningful information to schools and parents, we know that there are other equally important indicators of student success, noted Rivera.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.