There’s been a lot of media coverage lately about the latest scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the state’s standardized tests to gauge student proficiency. At first glance, it appears students’ academic performance has worsened, but it’s important to take a closer look at what’s really going on.
The PSSAs students took last spring weren’t new tests based on old standards, nor were they old tests used to gauge new standards. They are new tests aligned to new standards. In other words, Pennsylvania changed the way we measure student achievement and raised the bar on what we expect students to achieve.
In that context, any decline in scores should not be interpreted as a sign our kids are somehow becoming less prepared for the challenges they will face after high school. It doesn’t mean our students suddenly “know less,” nor does it mean that our schools have regressed in the quality of education they offer. Instead, it means our expectations about the preparedness of our students have grown – and they needed to grow.
Why? Because for too long, we were graduating students who falsely believed a high school diploma ensured they could compete and succeed in the workplace, the military or post-secondary education. Too often, those kids ended up not being as successful as they had expected because they weren’t adequately prepared. And they weren’t adequately prepared because the measures we were using to determine their post-high school readiness were lagging.
The shift in test scores that coincides with the introduction of more rigorous academic standards and higher expectations isn’t surprising - and it’s hardly unique to Pennsylvania. Many other states - Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New York and Tennessee among them - saw similar and sometimes more drastic changes in test scores as students began taking new assessments aligned to stronger academic standards.
Pennsylvania, like those other states, recalibrated its expectations and raised the bar for student achievement. That’s a good thing! Pennsylvania parents, taxpayers and employers should be supportive of having newer, strong standards, even if it initially means test scores seem lower than in previous years.
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