Lawmakers join with PSEA to reform testing

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Lawmakers join with PSEA to reform testing

Voice: May 2017

PSEA members are experts in their fields.

That’s why a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives took PSEA members’ recommendations about standardized testing reforms and introduced legislation to get the Legislature focused on the issue.

At a state Capitol press conference last month, lawmakers stood with PSEA President Jerry Oleksiak to lay out a five-bill package and urge their colleagues to support it.

“This is the right time to start a new conversation about the role of testing in education,’’ said PSEA

President Jerry Oleksiak. “PSEA members have great ideas about how to change the culture of standardized testing, and we’re grateful that legislators are willing to introduce bills to make that change.”

The legislative package is based on a policy paper PSEA issued in March, “A Balanced and Research-based Approach to Standardized Testing.”

One of the bills, introduced by Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks, and Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, (R-Bedford, Somerset) would let school districts decide whether to make passing the Keystone Exams a graduation requirement – not the state. State law currently requires it, but legislation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf delayed its implementation until the 2018-19 school year.

“I’d like to give the power back to my local school board and local superintendent,’’ Tomlinson told PennLive of Harrisburg. “We’re going to continue to remediate … but I just think the stick to beat the kid with was not the right move.’’

Other bills in the package allow parents to opt-out of standardized testing for religious, philosophical, or health concerns and require that PSSA and Keystone Exams only be used to comply with federal law and growth-score calculations.

Oleksiak noted that students spend up to 12 hours a year taking the PSSAs and lose up to 110 hours every year to tests and test preparation.

“The bottom line is that we spend too much time testing, and that gets in the way of teaching,” Oleksiak said. “These bills will help reset that balance. We’re eager to support them and get them moving in the Legislature.”

Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, a longtime critic of what he calls “the testing obsession,’’ noted the financial waste, telling The Scranton Times-Tribune:

“We are spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on testing skills while some school districts don’t even have the resources to properly educate students on the subjects for which they are being tested.’’  

Standardized testing reform bills

Keystone Exam local option. Allows local school districts to decide whether to require students to pass the Keystone Exams in order to graduate – not the state. Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R-Bucks), Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Bedford, Somerset)

Benchmark assessments. Prohibit public schools from purchasing assessments from a private vendor that are designed to predict a student’s ability to succeed on the PSSA or Keystone Exam. Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Alleghney), Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Franklin, Fulton, Bedford)

PSSA testing timeline. Administer the PSSAs three weeks prior to Memorial Day and provide the results to the chief school administrator no later than Aug. 15. Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie), Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland)

Use of test results. Require that PSSA and Keystone Exam results can only be used to comply with federal law and growth-score calculations. Sen. James Brewster (D-Allegheny, Westmoreland), Rep. Jamie Santora (R-Delaware)

Parent opt-out. Allow parents to opt-out of standardized testing for religious, philosophical, or health concerns. State law currently allows only a religious opt-out provision. Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), Sen. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren)

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