PSEA applauds passage of bill emphasizing focus on student learning over standardized testing during pandemic

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PSEA applauds passage of bill emphasizing focus on student learning over standardized testing during pandemic

Bill also provides temporary flexibility to educator certification requirements

For further information contact:
Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
David Broderic (717) 255-7169

HARRISBURG, PA (Sept. 29, 2020) – PSEA welcomed today’s vote in the state House on legislation that places greater emphasis on student learning over standardized testing and seeks to protect the teacher preparation pipeline as schools cope with the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 1216, if signed into law, will postpone implementation of the Keystone Exam graduation requirements and alternate graduation pathways until 2022-23, permit parents/guardians to opt their children out of state assessments in 2020-21, and require Pennsylvania to seek a federal waiver to annual state assessments, should a waiver opportunity be made available this year.

“Lawmakers today did the right thing for Pennsylvania’s students and their families,” PSEA President Rich Askey said. “During these ever-changing times, educators should be focused on meeting students’ needs and adjusting to new ways of teaching rather than on prepping students for standardized tests.

“We thank Rep. John Lawrence and all the lawmakers who supported his bill amendment addressing standardized testing, during such an uncertain time for our educators and students.”

Askey emphasized that educators use a variety of diagnostic tests and assessments throughout the school year to determine the learning needs of students. These tools are far more helpful to gauging what students need than any statewide standardized test.

While Senate Bill 1216 sends a clear message that Pennsylvania believes the federal government should work with states to ease standardized testing in 2020-21, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said that she will not grant any waivers to annual state assessments.

“It is callous for Secretary DeVos to insist on students’ taking high-stakes standardized tests this school year, despite all the challenges created by the pandemic,” Askey said. “Her lack of leadership on this issue is frustrating and harmful to students. Fortunately, this legislation will give parents a broader ability to opt their students out of high-stakes testing, if they choose.”

Prior to Rep. Lawrence’s standardized testing amendment, Senate Bill 1216’s underlying premise was to provide paraprofessionals with additional time to complete professional development requirements and give newly graduated teachers greater flexibility navigating the state certification process, which was disrupted during the pandemic.

“The pandemic affected the ability of current and future teachers to take steps necessary to complete their instructional certifications,” Askey said. “We are profoundly grateful that Sen. Wayne Langerholc stepped up early and provided the necessary leadership to address this problem. This bill will make sure that certification challenges do not impact school staffing or worsen the state’s educator shortage.”

Askey also said the provisions giving paraprofessionals additional time to complete professional development requirements are necessary and important.

“During these uncertain times, paraprofessionals should be given the same professional development flexibility as teachers have been given in prior legislation,” Askey said.

The House unanimously approved Senate Bill 1216, as amended. It will return to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 180,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.