Making sense of PSSA and Keystone Exam scores

Standardized Testing

More students are scoring proficient or advanced this year on the PSSAs than in 2015 in nearly all categories of English language arts and math, according to the PA Department of Education.

The results "show student performance is trending in the right direction, but also that more needs to be done to help students who aren't yet achieving proficiency," said Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.

This is only the second year that students were tested on their understanding of the PA Core Standards, a set of rigorous standards all public schools in the state must follow. Many school districts are still working to align curriculum to the standards.

Student proficiency also rose on the state's Keystone Exams, end-of-course tests in algebra, biology, and English literature. Beginning with the class of 2019, students will have to achieve proficient ratings on all three Keystone Exams in order to graduate — unless legislators make a change to the law.

Educators note these tests provide a snapshot and not a full measure of student achievement.

"We want to make sure that testing doesn't distract from teaching," said Jerry Oleksiak, an Upper Merion Area special education teacher who is president of the PA State Education Association. "Right now, PA has a great opportunity to re-examine the use of high-stakes standardized tests as we figure out how to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

"I encourage policymakers to really consider how we use standardized tests and remember that, while assessments are important, teaching and learning need to come first."


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