Pa. lawmaker: Added rigor of tests calls for spending increase

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

A top Pennsylvania Democrat is calling for substantial new investment in education in light of more rigorous state standardized tests.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia said poor results on recent tests make a clear argument for lawmakers to adopt Gov. Wolf’s proposal to increase state education funding.

The 2014-15 school year was the first in which the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests – taken in grades 3 through 8 – were aligned with Pennsylvania’s version of the Common Core state standards.

Based on the added difficulty of the tests and the state’s higher expectations for performance, proficiency rates dropped on average by 35.4 percentage points in math and 9.4 percentage points in English language arts.

In some schools, math proficiency rates dropped by more than 40 percentage points.

Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Education say it is misleading to compare student proficiency rates to prior years; 2014-15 should be considered the "new baseline," the department said.

The sharp declines in scores have been making waves across the state, as educators and parents grapple with how to adjust to the higher expectations.

"High standards are appropriate, but the thing that’s the crime in this is not having the resources available to meet those standards," said Hughes.

Hughes, the minority chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, specifically called on his colleagues to agree to Wolf’s proposal for an increased tax on natural gas drilling.

Hughes said he hasn’t taken a head count within the Democratic caucus of support for Wolf’s pitch for a tax increase in sales and personal income.

Wolf is seeking these taxes, along with an increased state cigarette tax, in concert with a local property tax reduction to infuse public schools with an additional $500 million in basic and special education funding.

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