Student scores on Pennsylvania standardized tests fell sharply last year in most categories, but education officials cautioned that the numbers were skewed by the pandemic and cannot be adequately compared to previous years.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Education released 2021 results from the Pennsylvania State Standardized Assessments — or PSSAs — given to third through eighth graders and the Keystone Exams reported for 11th graders. Except for 11th-grade biology, student proficiency scores declined. Third-grade PSSA proficiency scores, for instance, fell from 61.9 percent to 58.3 percent on English and 56 percent to 47.3 percent on math, while eighth-grade scores dropped from 57.9 percent to 52.6 percent on English and 32.2 percent to 22.1 percent on math.
The PSSA exams are taken in April and May and released in September and October in a typical year. But in 2021 the test-taking period was extended through September, under a U.S. Department of Education waiver. While student participation on last year’s tests was lower — dropping from 98 percent in 2018-19 to 71 percent, according to state officials — education experts said the dip in scores still appeared to provide evidence of pandemic-related challenged, including school staffing outages, transportation problems and building closures.
The PA Chamber was part of a coalition that discouraged lawmakers from skipping a second year of assessments during the pandemic because of the importance of tracking individual student growth, identifying best practices, and due to the risk of compromising longitudinal data. In its letter to lawmakers, the coalition noted that skipping assessments would leave schools and policymakers without an understanding of how effective education during the pandemic had been – and to what extent it has created gaps that need to be addressed.