Pa. standardized test scores continue slide over past three years

 Pennsylvania's standardized test scores have declined over the past three years. (NewsWorks file photo)

Pennsylvania's standardized test scores have declined over the past three years. (NewsWorks file photo)

Pennsylvania’s standardized test scores have steadily declined over the past three years. The dropoff has been especially stark amongst some of the commonwealth’s most at-risk students.

 

Pennsylvania’s standardized test scores have steadily declined over the past three years, according to the state department of education’s filings with the federal government. The dropoff has been especially stark amongst some of the commonwealth’s most at-risk students.

Under Gov. Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has downplayed year-to-year standardized test score comparisons — instead favoring the School Performance Profile index, which accounts for cohort test growth and graduation rates among other factors.

The SPP website allows the public to access achievement data on a school or district-wide basis, but the department of education has made it difficult to see the aggregated results of all of its schools.

Federal filings, though, require this information.

Based on reports for 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14, the table below depicts the percentage of all students across Pennsylvania who scored proficient or advanced on state standardized tests in english and math over the past three years.

All Students

Math/Algebra

English/Lit

2011-12*

74%

71%

2012-13

73%

70%

2013-14

72%

70%

The state department of education considers 2011-12 as the “reset point” for state testing. That year it implemented tighter test security measures after a statewide adult cheating scandal cast suspicion upon the gains seen in prior years.

The tables below break statewide proficiency rates down by select demographics.

Economically disadvantaged

Math/Algebra

English/Lit

2011-12*

60%

55%

2012-13

58%

53%

2013-14

56%

54%

 

Special Ed Students

Math/Algebra

English/Lit

2011-12*

43%

38%

2012-13

37%

32%

2013-14

36%

32%

Eng. Lang. Learners

Math/Algebra

English/Lit

2011-12*

35%

19%

2012-13

29%

17%

2013-14

30%

17%

Black/African Amer.

Math/Algebra

English/Lit

2011-12*

51%

47%

2012-13

48%

46%

2013-14

46%

46%

Latino

Math/Algebra

English/Lit

2011-12*

57%

51%

2012-13

54%

49%

2013-14

53%

49%

*Keystone exams weren’t introduced statewide until 2012-13.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the department of education said the scores were consistent with what Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq has expected.

“You’re going to see fluctuations in the numbers. Seeing fluctuations is not unusual,” he said, attributing the declines to the state’s overhaul of its testing system.

The tests themselves have become more rigorous, he said, and many school districts are still re-aligning their curriculum to meet the state standards.

Eller attributed the stark drops in the scores of special-education and English language learner students to a change in testing protocol. In 2012, Eller said a federal mandate eliminated the option for those students to take a modified version of the state test.

Instead of the PSSA-M, those students now take either the PSSA (which the rest of the student populace takes), or a new alternate test, the PASA.

Eller said school district resource cuts did not influence the downward slide.

“Although money is important for educating students. It’s not the amount of money; it’s how money is invested,” he said.

Education advocates took umbrage with the state’s rationale, tying the declines to priority decisions made in the capitol under Corbett’s leadership.

“Its hard to not connect the layoff of more than 20,000 school personnel from 2011-2103 with the troubling decline in student performance,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and former cabinet member when Ed Rendell was governor.

“New money, spent wisely produces results. This data shows that cuts in funding that eliminate research based supports also has results,” Cooper said, “very bad ones.”

‘Keystone crisis?’

Fifty-four percent of the state’s high school students scored proficient or above on the state’s Keystone exam in biology.

That’s up nine percentage points from the year prior, but still low enough to cause concern for parents statewide whose children must pass Keystones in algebra, literature and biology in order to graduate high school starting in 2017.

Sixty-four percent of students scored proficient or above on the algebra exam; 74 percent did so in literature.

Of black students in the state, 23 percent passed the science test, 35 percent passed the math, and 51 percent passed the English.

Eller said Dumaresq — who will be replaced soon by a Gov-elect Tom Wolf appointee — expects student performance on state tests will turn around in “a year or two.”

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