March 7, 2022, Harrisburg Pa. – After a multi-month delay, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released on Friday student test scores for the 2021 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). The statewide scores confirm significant student learning loss since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The scores show 78 percent of 8th-grade students are not proficient in math and 47 percent are not proficient in language arts. This represents a 10 percentage point decline in math and a 5 percentage point decline in language arts proficiency rates since 2019.
“As has been reported elsewhere, school closures resulted in significant learning loss,” said Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield. “But we should be more troubled the overall low-level of performance. Despite spending more than $19,000 per student, the seventh-most in the nation, Pennsylvania school districts are not performing at an acceptable level.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the Keystone State’s public schools have received more than $6.2 billion in federal funding. This is on top of receiving $32.8 billion in education funding in 2019–20, revenues that increased 28 percent since 2012. For the next budget, Gov. Tom Wolf proposes a $2.05 billion increase in state support of public schools.
“Statewide scores have dropped even as school districts have received billions of dollars in additional funding,” Benefield added. “This represents an unaccountable system that consistently increases funding to school buildings without any regard to performance or student need.”
A recent report on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s performance by the Independent Fiscal Office found that the “data suggests there is little or no correlation between the current expenditures spent per student and the share of students that score proficient or above on standardized tests.”
Benefield added: “The 2021 assessment results confirm what we already knew—too many students have been left behind and need an educational lifeline. Lawmakers should empower parents by allowing funding to follow students to schools that meet their needs.”
Lawmakers have introduced legislation to increase educational options for students impacted by the pandemic. These include grants to help students who face post-pandemic learning challenges, the expansion of Pennsylvania’s educational tax credit scholarship program, and lifeline scholarships to help children stuck in the lowest-performing schools.
“No student should be trapped in a failing school based on their zip code,” said Benefield. “After two years of public-school closures, significant learning loss, and distressing academic performance, the demand for educational options has never been greater.”
Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Stefanie Mason firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-418-5132 to schedule an interview.
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