OP-ED: Serious Public Education Questions in Pennsylvania | Op-Ed
New research from the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy documents how poor PSSA scores predict poor Keystone exam scores in Pennsylvania.
But it also raises two key questions: do these pass test results indicate a massive failure of the Commonwealth educational institution and/or are the tests too difficult and in need of a redesign?
“Indeed, an explanation for why the high percentages of students scoring below Keystone test skills in 2021 — and previous years — can be found in the surprisingly low scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests. (PSSA) from previous years dating back to 2015,” says Jake Haulk, chairman emeritus of the Pittsburgh think tank (in Policy Brief Vol. 22, No. 15).
Assuming the reasonable assumption that the overwhelming majority of the eighth grade cohort in 2018 were the 2021 grade 11 test takers, the PSSA scores of these eighth graders in 2018 should be a fairly good predictor of performance. Grade 11 Keystone exams in 2021.
“And, indeed, they are,” Haulk found. On the PSSA math test, 69% of eighth graders statewide in 2018 failed to meet the proficiency level and 38.5% were below the proficiency level on the English test.
“So large percentages of under-achieving students in grades six, seven and eight who continued to make up the preponderance of grade 11 students taking Keystone exams in 2021 have simply been moved to the next grade each year despite not can’t do grade-level math or English or both,” Haulk said.
“Why would it be surprising that the 69% of students who were not fluent in eighth grade math failed in large numbers to score higher or higher on the grade 11 math test despite the fact that the test was given at the end of Algebra I that they had presumably just passed?”
The unfortunate test results suggest there is a huge public education failure in Pennsylvania.
“Either that or the achievement tests administered are far too difficult and need to be redesigned,” says Haulk. “In this regard, consider that even schools with superb academic rankings do not have all students who do well in eighth-grade math.”
To wit, in 2018, Julia Masterman in Philadelphia, which still ranks among the best in the state academically, had 7% of eighth graders failing to master math.
Then there’s Peters Township Middle School in Washington County, which according to the School Digger rankings for 2021, ranked 10th out of 797 colleges in Pennsylvania and second best in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In 2018, 17.9% of eighth graders scored below math proficiency.
Another strong school, Jefferson Middle in Mt. Lebanon (and 11th ranked in the state), was 27% below proficient.
“In short, very good schools still had what would normally be considered worrying levels of lower proficiency scores,” Haulk says.
Incidentally, Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) had two schools with zero percent test takers and three schools with less than 5 percent eighth graders at the math proficiency level in 2018.
However, it is important to note that even if the tests were made less difficult, the scoring gap between schools with good and very bad results would still be very large, with students from the worst performing schools remaining extremely poorly prepared on the test. school plan.
One thing is certain, Haulk concludes:
“Until the Governor and Legislature are prepared to confront teachers’ unions, state Department of Education employees, and district school boards with high percentages of underprepared students and to enact major reforms, the status quo of unsatisfactory achievement will continue and tens of thousands of students will graduate each year with serious deficits in literacy and numeracy.
“And the future of many of these graduates will be diminished as a result,” Haulk concludes.
Colin McNickle is director of communications and marketing at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy ([email protected]).