Pennsylvania’s Report Card: 2018 PSSA and Keystone Exams

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released the 2018 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exam results. Both sets of exams are used to ensure Pennsylvania’s education system is meeting Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) standards set forth under President Obama in 2015.

PSSA exams measure proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math and are taken annually by 3rd through 8th grade students across the state. PSSA also tests science for 4th and 8th grade students. Statewide PSSA results stayed relatively the same as last year, with slight proficiency increases in ELA and Science and a slight decrease in Math.

In some districts, PSSA results paint a bleak picture. According to 2017 PSSA data, Harrisburg School District students trail the statewide proficiency average by 31 percentage points in Math and 40 percentage points in ELA. In the Philadelphia School District, the gap is 24 percentage points in Math and 27 percentage points in ELA.

Keystone Exams are end-of-course tests that measure proficiency in Literature, Biology, and Algebra. Intended to be a key component of Pennsylvania graduation requirements, newly enacted legislation diminishes the relevance of the Keystone Exams. Senate Bill 1095 (now Act 158) provides alternative pathways to graduation.

Like the PSSAs, 2018 statewide Keystone results were stagnant, with a slight decrease in Algebra 1, a slight increase in Biology, and no change in Literature.

Standardized testing is a controversial topic, and while assessments don’t mean everything, they can provide school districts early warnings about major problems. The data clearly demonstrate that students in places like Philly and Harrisburg do not have the same educational opportunities as students in more affluent areas.

The prescribed solution is often to simply spend more money, yet a demographically-controlled comparison of all fifty states' per-student funding shows that “spending more money has virtually no effect on student performance.”

Education choice is the only way to solve Pennsylvania’s opportunity gap. Education funding should follow the child, rather than forcing the child to follow the money. Each child is unique. Education choice empowers parents to weigh the pros and cons of various options—including school safety numbers and test scores—to determine the best fit for a child’s unique needs.