Is the PSSA Too Easy?

The Allegheny Institute takes issue with the latest round of Pennsylvania test results – specifically the 8th grade reading PSSA. They note that not only does the 8th grade exam represent a dramatic improvement among 8th grade students, but that 8th grade students did much better than either students in earlier grades or later grades. In fact, almost all of the much-ballyhooed improvement in Pennsylvania’s student performance is explained by 8th grade reading exam. The Allegheny Institute thinks this may be the result of a watered-down exam:

One might argue that tests for other grades were made harder while the 8th grade test stayed the same and in fact all grades are doing much better than in earlier years. Unfortunately for that argument there is no corroborating evidence of large improvements in achievement as indicated, for example, by flat SAT scores.

Because the improvement in 8th grade PSSA performance is such an important part of the Department of Education of student achievement improvement across the state, it is important to understand how there could have been such enormous gains relative to other grades and why those gains are not sustained through the 11th grade when the students are tested again. If it is because of improved 8th grade reading instruction, that should be examined to see how those methods can be used in other subjects and in other grades. If it turns out that the 8th grade test is in fact less rigorous relative to other grades, that must be recognized and dealt with appropriately. Finally, if the 8th grade mystery has been caused by a change in the way results are scored and has inadvertently inflated the 8th graders performance, that must be figured out and fixed.

That is similar to our conclusion – only on a broader scale. The PSSAs are a much lower standard of performance than the nationwide NAEP exam – inflating the “proficiency rate” by 80%.

As a result, students are graduating high school (yes, even many that fail the PSSAs) without being adequately prepared for college or careers.