What to Make of the PSSA Results

Newly released Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores show little to no change in academic achievement across the commonwealth.

What do these scores mean? The PSSAs posted on the School Performance Portal (SPP) were supposed to help students, parents, educators and citizens to evaluate student and school performance year to year.

In practice, the PSSA baseline and contents of the SPP have changed so many times that year-to-year comparisons are nearly worthless.

For example, how special education students are tested and how those scores are included in a school’s results have changed several times. In 2013, Keystone Exams replaced PSSAs for high school students and were added to the SPP. And tests were aligned with Pennsylvania Core Standards in 2015, resulting in a change in how the tests are scored.

Last December, Governor Wolf announced a complete overhaul of the SPP. The new Future Ready PA Index will replace the SPP for the 2019-20 school year. More recently, the Governor explained that PSSAs are going to be significantly shortened this year.

Why does the state have such difficulty designing – and sticking with – a method of assessing school performance? The answer is the assessment needs of students and their parents are too varied for a one-size-fits-all solution from Harrisburg. The majority of families in Pennsylvania are locked into a government-run monopoly that assigns students to a school based on their zip code. No evaluation mechanism will meet the needs of so many diverse families in districts across the state.

The best way to ensure kids are succeeding is to give parents the ability to choose the type of education that best fits their children. This will result in more tailored educational options. Forthcoming legislation to bring Educational Savings Accounts to Pennsylvania would be a great step in this direction.

When parents can choose an educational path for their children, schools become more accountable for each students’ academic progress.