Editorial: Pa. schools should focus on equalizing testing conditions, not seeking progress

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

On Sept. 30, Pennsylvania public schools will be scored based on performance, not progress.

A new grading system will be instated for Pennsylvania public schools, including charter schools, based on their scores on Pennsylvania System of School Assessments and the new Keystone exams. The scores now include science and writing in addition to the pre-existing reading and math portions.

Although the scores of these two additional sections are included when scoring schools’ academic performances, standardized tests are not necessarily an accurate way to measure proficiency.

Earlier this year, the state won a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, which stated that Pennsylvania is no longer required to have all students score at a level deemed proficient in reading and math under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Formerly, Pennsylvania schools were scored using a standard known as Adequate Yearly Progress. This standard measured student performance for both schools and school districts, ultimately determining whether or not schools and districts are successfully educating their students. Under this new grading system, schools will be scored based only on their School Performance Profiles.

Under School Performance Profiles, scores in science and writing are counted alongside scores in reading and math. Before, science and writing scores were released by the state, but did not count toward Adequate Yearly Progress. This new system uses a 100-point scale to grade schools’ performances based on test scores, growth in test scores, attendance rates and graduation rates, among other aspects.

This new system places Title I schools — schools with a high percentage of low-income students — as a priority, focusing on improving students’ progress. Schools not included in the Title I program still receive School Performance Profiles, but do not receive extra help from the state.

State standardized tests have long been used to gauge schools’ success in educating students, but they are not especially effective.

Public schools that are able to provide resources to their students, such as study aids, will most likely score better on the tests than schools that do not have these resources. As it stands, public school districts in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country receive funding through local property taxes, thereby putting districts in low-income communities at a disadvantage. 

Even Title I schools that receive federal aid in order to improve test scores do not receive enough to provide adequate resources for individual students. The state should focus on equalizing schools’ abilities to prepare students for these tests in order to receive a more accurate depiction of how well students are being educated.

Changing the way standardized tests are scored and related to student performance is a good first step, but the state needs to do more to equalize testing conditions.