POTTSTOWN PA – Expect to be disappointed by Pottsgrove School District students’ performance on this year’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests, the scores of which are due for release next month, district Superintendent Shellie Feola indicated in a letter Tuesday (Aug. 4, 2015) to parents.
And, she added, please don’t blame the district. The problem exists state-wide.
The reason: the state Department of Education substantially changed the 2015 exam to reflect its version of Common Core standards – the concepts all students must learn at each grade level – without giving educators sufficient warning or the time to switch lesson plans. The result: proficiency scores (particularly in math) that are substantially lower, in some cases by 20 percent or more, than last year.
“It is important to remember that Pottsgrove’s students haven’t changed,” Feola wrote, “the assessment has changed.” She added, “In short, this year’s test is the same as last year’s test in name only.”
State Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera used almost identical language in a mid-July memo to administrators across the state, explaining why 2015 PSSA results they would soon receive could be unhappily surprising. A copy of the memo is available online, here.
Whenever such tests change, Feola explained, “scores initially drop.” But this year, her letter added, state-announced scores “are extremely low, especially in math. For example, the state reports that only 30 percent of 8th-grade students are proficient in math, as compared to 74 percent last year.” That’s a drop of 44 percentage points over 12 months.
Pottsgrove just obtained preliminary data on its own students that appears “to be consistent with the reduction in percentages of proficiency experienced by districts across the state.” In one example Feola cited, “math proficiency changed from 74.2 percent to 47.81 percent from grade 3 to grade 4. In other words,” she said, “a child who was proficient as a 3rd grader may not be proficient on this new assessment as a 4th grader.”
There are several causes, Feola believes. As Rivera’s memo concedes, test standards are higher, and they were tested a full grade-level earlier. The state, she wrote, also expected “districts to develop and implement new curriculum within a very limited time frame.”
The results for Pottsgrove aren’t final, Feola reported. Several customary adjustments will be made between the state and districts before scores are released to parents and the public, probably by mid-September.
The district and parents will “transition through this change together,” she promised, and thanked parents for their patience. She also encouraged them to be more politically pro-active regarding student testing overall.
“The PSSA is just one measure of assessing student progress,” Feola wrote. “I agree with many other educators and parents who believe the number of tests and time we are devoting are excessive, and the manner in which the state is using the data is not helpful or fair. I encourage you to continue to seek out your legislators to make changes.”
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