Good News About Pennsylvania Public Schools
Pennsylvania public schools are among the best in the nation, according to many objective measures and research from respected institutions. For a decade, student achievement has been improving, thanks to the efforts of teachers and education support professionals who work with our children every day.
However, this good news is tempered by recent declines in student performance on PSSAs. PSSAs are only one indicator of student achievement, but they are an important one. Policymakers should be aware of this decline and respond with policies, such as those recommended in Solutions That Work, to help students achieve in the future.
Many Pennsylvania taxpayers may not realize what a good return they get on their investment in public schools. The facts and figures below prove that public schools are a wise investment for taxpayers.
While research demonstrates much success, it is always important to understand exactly what each test is designed to measure and how the information gathered can be used as part of a total picture. Knowledge of what each test strives to measure and how the results are intended to be used allows everyone to make honest interpretations of both results and implications. This report provides information on accomplishments of note and shares research information necessary to fully understand the results and their meaning.
Here are just a few of the good news facts and successes that help demonstrate the remarkable ability of Pennsylvania’s public schools to provide students with high-quality education.
The facts and figures below prove that public schools are a wise investment for taxpayers.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicators of success
Pennsylvania's reading scores are among the nation's best:
- Only two states have statistically significant higher fourth-grade reading scores than PA.
- Only four states have statistically significant higher eighth-grade reading scores than PA.
Pennsylvania's math scores are among the nation's best:
- Only five states have statistically significant higher fourth-grade math scores than PA.
- Only eight states have statistically significant higher eighth-grade math scores than PA.
Pennsylvania vs. other countries:
Researchers from the National Center for Educational Statistics performed a study that statistically linked state performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade mathematics and science tests with international performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) eighth-grade mathematics and science tests.
- Science: Pennsylvania’s NAEP performance would rank it below only six education systems (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Japan, Finland, Alberta-Canada), comparable to four, and above 37.
- Math: Pennsylvania ranked below only six education systems (Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, and Russia), comparable to Quebec, and above 40.
NAEP Reading scores are up:
- The proportion of Pennsylvania public school fourth- graders who scored at the highest two levels in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has increased by 21 percent since 2003.
- The proportion of Pennsylvania public school eighth- graders who scored at the highest two levels in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has increased by 31 percent since 2003.
NAEP Math scores are up:
- The proportion of Pennsylvania public school fourth-graders who scored at the highest two levels in mathematics in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has increased by 22 percent since 2003.
- The proportion of Pennsylvania public school eighth-graders who scored at the highest two levels in mathematics in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has increased by 40 percent since 2003.
According to a study by the Brookings Institution, the performance of Pennsylvania students on math and reading NAEP tests in both fourth and eighth grades places the state among the nation’s top 10 performance gainers, in both the short term (since 2003), and in the long term (since 1992).
The NAEP is the most appropriate test for use in comparing performance among states. In 1988, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) to devise procedures for interstate comparisons of test scores. For example, unlike Student Achievement Test (SAT) data, NAEP procedures require a scientifically valid sampling plan whereby 100 schools are randomly selected to represent all public schools in the state.
While the NAEP tests are a valid manner in which to compare relative academic performance by students in different states, it is important to remember that states still differ in the characteristics of their populations. Some states have many more students from urban areas, those who have lower socioeconomic status, and lower levels of parental education than do other states. So while we can use the NAEP tests as an accurate barometer of student performance, the question remains as to what meaning to give to any observed differences between the states.
Other performance indicators
Pennsylvania is a national leader in “AP Honor Roll” school districts, with 39 districts receiving this distinguished designation. This places Pennsylvania in the top 5 states. AP Honor Roll districts have expanded the percentage of students taking college level AP exams, while increasing or maintaining the percentage of students whose scores can earn them college credit.
Advanced Placement (AP) tests: Pennsylvania also has a high percentage of public high school students who score high enough on AP exams to qualify for college credit when taking the exam, ranking 10th in the nation.
More students participating in AP Courses: The number of Pennsylvania public high school students taking and testing in an Advanced Placement course has increased 81 percent over the past 10 years.
A high percentage of high school graduates plan to continue their education: More than seven out of 10 Pennsylvania high school graduates plan to continue their education after high school.
Among the best in the nation of students performing in college: Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of full-time college students who complete their bachelor’s degrees.
Student Achievement Tests (ACTs): Pennsylvania ranks 11th on the average ACT scores, and 47th in the proportion of students who take the ACT. Inasmuch as Pennsylvania has one of the lowest proportions of students taking the ACTs, an overall higher ranking among states is not unexpected.
Student Achievement Tests (SATs): Pennsylvania ranks 37th on the average SAT scores, and 11th in the proportion of students who take the SAT. Inasmuch as Pennsylvania has one of the highest proportions of students taking the SATs, an overall lower ranking among states is not unexpected.
- In 2013, across all states there was a strong inverse relationship between participation rates and SAT scores, i.e., the greater the percentage taking the test, the lower the score. For this reason, it is not appropriate to use SAT scores to compare states.
- The College Board, the organization that sponsors the SATs, says it is invalid to use the SAT to compare states.
- Statisticians from Education Testing Service (ETS), the organization that produces the SATs, have written extensively about why the SAT is an invalid measure for ranking states that cannot be statistically rehabilitated.
Both the SAT and the NAEP tests are produced by Education Testing Services (ETS). ETS specifically warns against using the SAT to compare states and has developed the NAEP tests expressly for the purpose of comparing states.
Revised October 2016