October 5, 2020
The state House passed education reform legislation last week that, among other provisions, would further delay implementation of passing Keystone exams as a requirement for graduation and could allow the Commonwealth to both skip Keystone Exams this year entirely and suspend the typical inclusion of performance data in teacher performance evaluations. The PA Chamber joined a number of other groups that expressed concerns in a letter to the General Assembly.
The House-amended version of S.B. 1216 would further postpone use of the end-of-year Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for schools that utilize them – legislation that has been passed several years in a row. The original bill included a number of sensible provisions to loosen teacher certification requirements for the 2021-21 school year, which will help schools more easily fill open positions amid a pandemic-related teacher shortage; would require schools to report COVID-19 cases to staff and families; and would provide transportation as they would under normal circumstances to nonpublic school students.
The letter noted concerns about delaying statewide assessments that includes the Keystone exams and the PSSA exams, for grades 3-8, because of the loss of critical information that can highlight opportunity gaps and help schools learn and improve upon their virtual or hybrid learning systems. The signatories added that the pandemic has led to an unprecedented situation in terms of measuring learning. “We do not know how much learning loss students experienced last year or how much wider achievement gaps grew. To skip the assessments for a second year would slow Pennsylvania’s recovery from COVID, leaving schools and policymakers without an understanding of how effective education during the pandemic has been—and to what extent it has created gaps that must be addressed,” they wrote.
In addition to the lack of information to districts in absence of this testing, there is an economic component as well – assessments often help lawmakers determine where more resources are needed to help struggling students catch up academically with their peers in more well-performing areas. “Assessment data will help educators to identify schools and districts whose approaches during the pandemic are working for students, and to study, understand and evaluate best practices,” the coalition wrote. “Without question, administering PSSA and Keystone exams will be a significant challenge in this environment. However, we are only one month into the new school year, and we have a state full of thoughtful and dedicated educators, not to mention nearly 2 million students who are counting on all of us. We urge the Assembly not to act hastily. Student assessments are a source of vital information for parents, educators and fiscal decision makers. Let’s figure out a way to administer them safely and smartly. We welcome the opportunity to help do that, and to explore other steps that can help Pennsylvania get back on the road to progress.”
The amended S.B. 1216 now awaits potential consideration in the Senate.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.