PA Works to Put School Testing in Its Place

By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – An overemphasis on standardized tests is interfering with children’s education in Pennsylvania, according to a leading teachers’ organization.

According to the new policy brief by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s reliance on high-stakes, standardized tests for public school students is out of balance. From the Pennsylvania State Standardized Assessment to the Keystone Exams, PSEA president Jerry Oleksiak said students now are spending up to 110 hours of class time each year preparing for and taking these tests.

“That’s time that’s taken away from things that would be better for kids,” he said, “whether that’s arts and music, AP classes, all these things that have been hurt by the amount of time we spend on testing.”

The policy brief recommended reducing the amount of time spent on the PSSA, using standardized testing only for government accountability requirements and keeping the Keystone Exams separate from high school graduation requirements. Oleksiak said the Keystone Exams originally were designed as an end-of-course test.

“You would take it as a final exam and it would count a certain percentage toward your grade,” he said, “and it morphed into a gatekeeper test, where you had to pass it to graduate no matter how you did in your other course work.”

Last year, a measure to delay use of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement until 2019 passed in the Legislature with bipartisan support, and a new bill has been introduced to make the delay permanent. Oleksiak said he believes parents and state lawmakers are getting the message.

“The tide is beginning to turn,” he said, “and people are seeing that the amount of time, the high-stakes nature of it, and these tests being used for things they aren’t designed for is not good for kids.”

PSEA recommended that any system of school accountability include a variety of factors such as socioeconomic status, rather than relying solely on standardized test scores.

The policy brief is online at psea.org/testing.

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