Test scores dropped sharply in 2015 because of added rigor, Pa. officials say

This PSSA exam was the first to fully incorporate the state's new core standards.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The number of Pennsylvania students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" on state standardized tests in 2014-15 fell precipitously compared with the previous year.

And it marks a fourth straight year of test score declines.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education confirms the drop, but will not provide specifics – citing the need to finalize data.

But a chart available on the department’s website provides a clearer picture of preliminary results.

Analysis shows that the proficiency rates in grades 3 through 8 dropped by an average of 35.4 percentage points in math and 9.4 percentage points in English language arts on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exam.

Department officials attribute the declines to the increased rigor of the state standardized tests.

The 2014-15 school year was the first in which every question aligned with the Pennsylvania Core Standards – which are similar, but not identical to the Common Core standards adopted in other states.

Last week, based on the new standards, the Pennsylvania Board of Education voted to readjust its expectations for how the more difficult tests would be scored – setting new cutoffs for "advanced," "proficient," "basic" and "below basic." This process is known as setting the "cut scores."

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