Pa. kids will take fewer tests, given later in the year, Gov. Wolf announces in Montgomery County

Gov. Wolf, center, takes a virtual tour of the Great Barrier Reef courtesy of Colin McGrain, 13, left, an eighth grader at Colonial Middle School in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Wolf on Wednesday announced a shift in the time when state standardized tests would be administered to hundreds of thousands of children across the state.

Amid a national pushback against standardized tests, Pennsylvania students will soon take fewer state exams and they will be administered later in the school year, Gov. Wolf announced Wednesday.

“We were learning to the test, we were teaching to the test” too often, the governor said during a stop at Colonial Middle School in Plymouth Meeting. “That’s not the way learning is supposed to go. This is about putting the focus more to classroom teaching.”

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Gov. Wolf tells a crowd of students and school officials about a welcome shift in the administration of state exams.

So next spring, the start of the administration of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, known as the PSSAs, will be moved back one week, to April 9.

And beginning in 2019, the exam window will move to late April, with districts given  greater flexibility in when they choose to give students the exams. The exam window will also shrink from three to two weeks. Spring break now often falls in the middle of the PSSA window, causing scheduling headaches and throwing off test-takers, teachers say.

The change is likely to affect more than one million students in public schools across the commonwealth. Students in third through eighth grade in traditional public and charter schools take the tests annually.

When the PSSAs are given matters, administrators, teachers and students say: Taking the exams later in the school year not only allows for more instructional time before student achievement is measured, it also prolongs the academic slide that can occur once the testing window closes.

Students will also spend less time taking the tests – 48 fewer minutes on math, 45 fewer minutes on English, and 22 fewer minutes on science, as Wolf announced earlier in the year. That reflects a roughly 20 percent reduction in testing time.

Wolf said the change came in response to complaints from parents, teachers and students around the state about being over-tested, and concerns that the tests weren’t given at the right point in the school year.

“We want accountability,” he said. “But we want a better way for teachers to do what they do best – teach – and for students to do what they do best, learn.”

The change was hailed by Colonial School District administrators and teachers on hand.

Cathy Peduzzi, a Colonial parent and school board director, said her kids are visibly stressed by the PSSAs.

“It’s hard to watch,” said Peduzzi. She said the shift will help calm that stress.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, greeted the change as “great progress.”

“Gov. Wolf gets it on standardized testing. He’s heard and understands what teachers, parents, and students have been saying for a long time – that the PSSA testing schedule should be pushed later into the academic year to allow for more quality instructional time,” Dolores McCracken, PSEA president, said in a statement. “He also understands that less time spent on testing allows for more time spent teaching and learning.”