Gov. Wolf announces plan to reduce test-taking time for Pa. students

TOM_WOLF_1200
Pennsyvlania Governor Tom Wolf (AP PHOTO)

HARRISBURG — Gov. Wolf and state education officials on Monday announced plans to reduce the amount of classroom time that students spend taking standardized tests known as the PSSAs.

The State Department of Education plans to reduce one math section and one English section in the Pennsylvania System for School Assessment exams, which students take in grades 3 through 8. That should reduce the amount of time students spend taking the test by an average of 20 percent to 25 percent, depending on their age, meaning 93 minutes less for math and reading exams, according to the department.

The changes are expected to happen next spring, and officials said they could also seek to push back the tests to later in the school year, allowing more time for instruction before the exams take place.

Wolf said he hopes this will allow teachers to focus on providing students with a “complete education rather than preparing for one exam.”

He spoke Monday morning at Susquehanna Township Middle School in Harrisburg, where he was flanked by local educators and  top leaders from the state Department of Education.

“Teachers will be spending more time teaching,” said Pedro Rivera, secretary of the state Department of Education.
The plan must technically be submitted to the federal government for approval, but officials said they do not expect to encounter any problems.

Wolf’s announcement comes amid a backlash against PSSA testing in recent years by parents who have questioned the length and merits of the exam and opted their children out of taking it.

The news was greeted with acclaim in Philadelphia, where Cheryl Logan, the academic chief, said that school system has been putting less emphasis on testing for the last two years. In 2015, a report by the Council of Great City Schools underscored what teachers, parents, and students had long been saying: urban public-school students are over-tested. Philadelphia began trying to course-correct then, Logan said.

“We’ve been encouraging more instruction time and less assessment time,” she said.

Logan said she appreciated the governor’s using his “bully pulpit” to deemphasize testing, and said that Philadelphia would use this opportunity to examine its testing strategies more broadly.

“There’s lots of things to work out, but I think this is good for kids,” she said.

West Chester Area Superintendent James Scanlon, a vocal critic of PSSA testing who in June wrote to Rivera suggesting the test be curtailed, also applauded the changes.

“I have always believed that we spent way too much time on testing children,” he wrote in an email. “I am in support of less testing time for students, particularly for elementary school students.  We shouldn’t ask an 8-year-old third grade student to take an eight-hour math test in March, get the results back in September, and then determine if he/she knows math.  The best way to find out how a young child is doing to meet the academic standards is to ask the teacher.

“I understand we need some form of standardized assessment to see how students are progressing against standards, and we can certainly use the data to evaluate our curriculum.  It should only be a snapshot in time, and one piece of the assessment puzzle.”

Staff writers Kristen Graham and Kathy Boccella contributed to this article.