A Real Pennsylvania School “Report Card”

New report offers more accurate measure of education achievement

HARRISBURG, PA — Today, the Commonwealth Foundation released A Pennsylvania School Report Card: How the Commonwealth’s Public Schools Stack Up to the Rest of the Nation, a policy brief which compares student achievement on Pennsylvania’s state tests to the national standard.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) released the 2008 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) results, emphasizing overall improvement in the state but recognizing trouble areas. The PDE acknowledged two out of five high school students are below grade level on the PSSA, but claims students, in general, have surpassed the “ever-increasing targets” in math and reading.

“Despite these pronouncements of educational success, the PSSA test results are hyper-inflated compared to national standardized tests,” said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation and former secondary and post-secondary teacher.

In 2007, 82% more Pennsylvania students scored proficient on the PSSA than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states are required to develop their own standardized tests, but also have students take the NAEP to evaluate state standards.

Pennsylvania has a mediocre grade in measures of test inflation—most states perform better on their state tests than the national exam—and expert evaluations of the quality of state standards.

A Pennsylvania School Report Card converts the 2007 PSSA scores of each school district to their 2007 NAEP equivalent to provide a better method for comparing schools and states across the nation.

“This policy brief offers parents, communities, and policy makers a better grasp of the performance of Pennsylvania’s public schools,” said David V. Anderson, author of the policy brief. “Unfortunately, exams such as the PSSA fail to adequately inform parents, teachers, and the taxpaying public about the quality of their schools.”

The study concludes that most schools in Pennsylvania are engaged in a massive inflation of academic proficiency. “Even in the very best school upwards of 10% of the children are promoted to levels for which they are not prepared. In the worst schools more than 95% are improperly promoted,” writes Anderson.

Results from the NAEP are not available at the school or district levels. To remedy this, a method called ELQ mapping was developed to align PSSA results with the NAEP standards. The policy brief utilized results from 2007 NAEP and PSSA (the NAEP results for 2008 are not yet available). The Commonwealth Foundation will offer updates in future years as results are released.

“It is important that parents and taxpayers have information about how well their schools are performing, in both a national and international context,” said Brouillette. “The glaring underperformance of many schools when comparing student achievement to national standards only highlights the need to spur innovation and competition in the education marketplace by giving parents greater options in the education of their children .”

The policy brief provides math and reading proficient rates for 4th and 8th great students for each Pennsylvania district. Scores for individual schools—including charter and cyber schools—through high school can be found at CommonwealthFoundation.org.

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Editor’s Note: The policy brief, A Pennsylvania School Report Card: How the Commonwealth’s Public Schools Stack Up to the Rest of the Nation is available at CommonwealthFoundation.org.

The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.

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