FromAndrew Wagaman,The Morning Call
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, during a visit Monday to Eyer Middle School, touted aproposed new school accountability systemthat would rely less on standardized tests.
Meeting with a small group of East Penn School District administrators, school directors, teachers and students, Rivera also addressed the potential elimination of the school property tax, the future of thenew basic education funding formula, and racial incidents in schools across the state.
Rivera said education remains Governor Tom Wolf’s “No. 1 agenda item” and promised thatyet another challenging budget seasonwill not deter the administration from fighting for more education funding.
“We went from being one of three states in the country without a formula to now having one of the more comprehensive and thoughtful formulas,” Rivera said. “But the formula only makes a difference if there’s an investment into the program. That’s what our continued advocacy is all about.”
Wolf signed the new funding formula into law last summer. It bases new spending on student population and socioeconomic factors applicable to each district.
Last week, the state Department of Education outlined metrics it is recommending for use in the Future Ready PA Index, which would replace theSchool Performance Profile scores. The new system, Rivera said Monday, represents a shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach to school assessment.
The SPP was “way too heavily reliant on standardized tests to assess performance,” Rivera said. The new index, expected to be in place by fall 2018, gives school districts more say over the criteria by which they think they should be assessed. New indicators include year-to-year academic growth among all students, availability of career awareness programs and meeting the needs of English language learners.
While still complying with federal and state mandates, the new system will mitigate a test-taking culture, Rivera said.
Rivera visited East Penn as part of the Wolf administration’s “Schools That Teach” tour. Superintendent, Michael Schilder, shared the district’s recent efforts planning for future initiatives related to full-day kindergarten, technology and mental health. The challenge of taking the next step, he said, “unfortunately comes down to funding.”
Given the projected $2 billion deficit the state Legislature must address with the next budget, boosting aid to schools won’t be easy. Adding to school district officials’ uncertainty is the likely renewed push to eliminate the school property tax, which accounts for more than half of most Lehigh Valley schools’ revenue.
Rivera said the administration recognizes the urgency to alleviate homeowners’ tax burden, but that any effort to do so must generate a “responsible and transparent stream of revenue” to fund schools.