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State Dept. of Education: Due to pandemic, last year's standardized test results won't be used to evaluate schools' performances

Due to the variability in testing periods, reduced participation and other factors caused by COVID-19, it is "improper" to make comparisons between schools, PDE said
PSSA Testing Time

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Education on Friday released the results of the 2020-21 federally required state-level assessment tests, but said it will not use those results for evaluations due to variables brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the academic year for many schools across the commonwealth.

The standardized tests include the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the Keystone Exams, and the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA). 

“Historically, standardized assessment results have been an important part of understanding school performance and our work to close achievement and opportunity gaps," Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Sherri Smith said in a press release. " But this year’s results are anything but standard.

"We recognize that the global COVID-19 pandemic brought tremendous challenges to the school year, impacting students, teachers and staff alike, as we worked to protect the public health and safety of everyone in our classrooms. As Pennsylvania reports this federally required data, it urges caution in interpreting results given the unique learning conditions over the past few years.”

Pennsylvania schools had the option to administer the assessment tests at any time between the tradition spring window and the following fall to allow for flexibility as schools navigated the pandemic and its effect on the average school day. 

But due to the variability in testing periods, sharply reduced student participation rates, and other factors brought on by COVID-19, the PDE said, it is "improper" to make comparisons between school entities and school years.

“Given these circumstances, the results should not be viewed as a complete, representative sample of all students in the commonwealth, nor should a single assessment during an atypical school year be considered a true metric of student performance,” Smith said. "We will continue to work closely with schools to assist in the planning and implementation of evidence-based programs.”

Participation and achievement data have been added to the Future Ready PA Index, a comprehensive reporting system for presenting school-level data across a broad range of indicators, such as English language acquisition, career readiness, access to advanced coursework, and regular attendance, PDE said.

Annual achievement tests are required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). PSSAs are administered in grades 3 through 8 for both English Language Arts and Math; and grades 4 and 8 in Science. 

The Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) ensures equitable participation by students who are unable to participate in the general assessments. 

The Keystone Exams are end-of-course assessments in Literature, Algebra I, and Biology.

PSEA President Rich Askey issued the following statement on the 2021 state standardized testing results released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Education:

“We don’t need standardized test results to tell us that students have struggled over the past two years. The 2021 tests were administered during a global pandemic that disrupted public education and dramatically changed the way students learn. Everyone would expect scores and participation rates to drop in this environment, and no one should be surprised that they have.

“While Pennsylvania’s public schools were open and teaching students during the 2020-21 school year, school days were anything but routine. The ebb and flow of the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a school year where students could be in class one day and required to quarantine the next. This left many students feeling isolated and stressed.

“This is a major reason why the Republican and Democratic chairs of the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee called on the U.S. Department of Education  in a letter last year to waive the 2021 federal requirement for school standardized testing.

“PSEA shared Sen. Scott Martin and Sen. Lindsey Williams’ concerns. It was inappropriate and frankly a waste of state tax dollars to administer standardized tests during a pandemic when we all knew before students even put pencil to paper that results would be unusable.

“It’s clear that standardized tests administered during the pandemic were simply an exercise in compliance, and they offer a very incomplete measure of student performance during the pandemic. That’s likely why so many parents didn’t want their children to take them last year.

“We are thankful that the Pennsylvania General Assembly adopted  Act 136 of 2020 to ensure that tests results couldn’t be used for high-stakes purposes — whether that be pushing back the timeline for statewide graduation requirements or educator evaluations. State lawmakers had the foresight to act.

“For the past two years, educators and support professionals have gone above and beyond to keep their students learning under unprecedented circumstances. They have tracked class participation, performance on assessments, homework, and other measures to gauge the learning needs of students and address them. There is no doubt that everyone is working harder than ever.

“Parents of public school students have clearly appreciated the incredible work educators have done during the pandemic. According to a  poll of public school parents from Hart Research Associates and Lake Research Partners, 78% of respondents believe that their students’ teachers were good or excellent, and 80% said teachers made an extra effort to help students during the pandemic.

“These standardized test results confirm what we already know: that Pennsylvania’s students are still recovering academically, socially, and emotionally from the effects of the pandemic. Rather than focus on standardized test scores, we hope that school officials and state policymakers will access federal COVID relief funding to address pandemic-related challenges in our schools, confront an educator shortage that is reaching crisis levels, and help students succeed.”

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