What this year's PSSA scores mean (and what they don't)

Partners Post, August 2015

Last spring, Pennsylvania students in grades 3-8 were the first to take a new set of PSSA exams developed following the state's adoption of the PA Core Standards in fall 2013.

Test scores will be released publicly in a few weeks, but news about 2014-15 test results has already reached newspapers across the state, leaving parents and educators with questions and concerns about what the scores mean.

Preliminary reports show that student test scores on the new PSSA will be lower than last year. Overall, the percent of students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on the PSSA has dropped by more than 9 percent in English language arts and by more than 34 percent in mathematics.

Why are scores lower this year?

This is the first year students in Pennsylvania were tested on their understanding of the new PA Core Standards, a set of standards all public schools must follow.

Many school districts across Pennsylvania are still working to implement the PA Core Standards into classrooms, which means some students were tested on material that has not yet been covered in their classrooms. Replacing materials and realigning curriculum with the new standards is a costly, challenging process, which is even more challenging as districts continue to feel the effects of devastating state funding cuts passed in 2011.

In addition, exam questions were more complex, which is helpful to know when trying to understand scores, especially if your children's scores are lower than you would expect.

Advice for parents and students

Last year's PSSA results underscore the importance of evaluating students' academic performance on many factors — rather than a single test.

Parents should take the time to review last year's test scores very carefully with students and answer their questions and address concerns, especially if a student didn't perform as well as he or she expected.

Remind students that last year's tests were brand new and much more challenging than they've been in the past. Instead of focusing on the score, discuss how last year's tests help to identify students' strengths and opportunities for improvement. Reassure them that they should continue to work hard in school, and that this year's test scores were only a snapshot in time. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Education encourages students, parents, and educators to avoid comparing this year's scores to last year's. With the new academic standards, last year's tests were merely a snapshot in time. The new scores establish a "baseline" to measure students' progress moving forward.

Looking forward

As the state budget process continues in Harrisburg, education advocates are hopeful that the 2015-16 state budget will include increased investments in public schools — investments that schools can use to continue to align classroom instruction with the new PA Core Standards.

Last year's PSSAs also provide an important example of the need to measure students' success by more than a single standardized test.

Testing is an important tool, but overloading students with too many high-stakes tests can put a lot of stress on them and take precious time away from classroom learning.

Look for more information and updates about last year's test scores and the PA School Performance Profile in issues of Partners Post this fall.

 

  

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