Excerpted fromKristen A. Graham,Inquirer
HARRISBURG – Teachers are right, says Pennsylvania’s education secretary, Pedro Rivera – the goalposts keep moving, and it’s not fair to them.
Based on standards that in some cases had students learning material that was a full year ahead of where they had been previously, state exams got tougher amid a period of steep decline in state aid. Scores, which have yet to be released publicly, dropped sharply, he said. And teachers will now be judged in part on student scores.
Don’t expect the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, as the state tests are known, to go away. Nevertheless, Rivera repeatedly sounded a theme: “Standardized tests are important, and they’re one measure, but there are many other measures we should be using to ascertain whether teaching and learning is happening across the commonwealth.”
“We do want to make some adjustments and alignments, but we do have to work with both the state Board of Education and the legislature to do that,” said Rivera, who underscored that the Wolf administration “inherited the process” from Gov. Tom Corbett.
In his seven months on the job, thousands of teachers have told Rivera that school accountability needs to be less about test scores and more about reading levels, attendance, school climate, and other measures, he said. They have concerns about graduation requirements and the state’s current system of evaluating schools.
He does, too.
“We need to change accountability for schools to be more holistic,” Rivera said. “My greatest frustration is that I can’t do it fast enough.”
Still, the PSSAs are on the books, and for better or worse, schools and teachers will be judged on them.
Rivera warned against judging the 2015 test against previous years’ scores, a theme that the Education Department has sounded before – after a cheating scandal broke in 2011, when tests got harder.
“The 2015 assessment should not and cannot be compared to the 2014 and 2013 assessment,” he said. “It’s apples and oranges. Schools are still working on aligning curriculum to standards. They’re still catching up to teaching what we’re assessing.”
With less than a month to go before the start of school, Rivera is still unable to report to superintendents what level of state funding they can expect. The legislature is more than a month past its deadline to pass a state budget, and is not expected to reconvene to consider one until Aug. 25.
“It creates a great level of uncertainty,” Rivera said. “I would love to be able to say, ‘Here’s exactly what you’re going to be working with. What does the year look like?’ “
“I want for us to be able to better serve them, so that when kids come in on Day 1, they’re walking into environments that are conducive to teaching and learning,” Rivera said. “The kids aren’t going to wait for us. The community’s not going to wait for us, and they’re making decisions that are important decisions for the next school year.”