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Teachers: Now is the Time to Reexamine Testing in PA Schools

Students spend more than 100 classroom hours a year on test preparation. (Alberto G./Flickr)
Students spend more than 100 classroom hours a year on test preparation. (Alberto G./Flickr)
October 6, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The latest school-level scores on statewide standardized tests show some improvement over 2015, but education advocates in Pennsylvania caution they don't tell the whole story.

A slightly higher percentage of public school students passed the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment - or PSSA - and Keystone Exams in 2016. But Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the scores from high-stakes testing only give a snapshot of education in the state.

"They don't tell us everything we need to know about our schools,” Oleksiak said. "So, while we're happy to see some of the progress being made, my question is always, 'What is that costing us in terms of the things we are giving up in our schools?'"

By the time students graduate from high school in Pennsylvania they have taken more than 100 standardized tests.

According to Oleksiak, students now spend more than 100 classroom hours a year on test preparation alone, while many are sacrifice things like art, music and elective courses.

"Things that our kids love, that keep them in school,” he said. "We need to focus on what we know works for our kids, and filling in bubble sheets on standardized tests do not do that."

He noted that standardized tests are now being used not only to evaluate students' academic achievement, but also teacher performance.

In late 2015, Congress passed the "Every Student Succeeds Act," a successor to "No Child Left Behind." Oleksiak said he sees the modified testing requirements of the new law as an opening for positive change on the state level.

"We're hopeful that our Department of Education and the Wolf Administration will look at this and see this as an opportunity to take some of that emphasis off the high-stakes testing that's going on in our schools,” he said.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA