Wolf, Rivera announce reduction in time spent on Pa. tests

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

Flanked by education advocates, Gov. Wolf and state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera announced Monday that schools in Pennsylvania will reduce time spent on state standardized testing by 20 percent in grades 3-8.

The change came after discussions between the Department of Education and stakeholders as the department developed its consolidated plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“As I have traveled the commonwealth on the Schools That Teach tour, I have heard from parents, students, and educators concerned about the amount of time devoted to taking standardized tests,” said Wolf during a tour stop at Susquehanna Middle School in Dauphin County. “This reduction will ease the stress placed on our kids and will allow students and teachers to focus more on learning than on testing. This change should also reassure parents that we’ve listened to their concerns about over-testing.”

Starting this fall, students in grades 3-8 will spend 20 percent less time on average on the PSSAs, and students in the younger elementary grades will spend nearly 25 percent less time on the tests. The Department of Education removed one section from the PSSA’s English portion, removed one section from the math portion, and reduced the number of questions asked throughout the science portion.

Students in grades 3-8 will save an estimated 48 minutes on the new PSSA math assessment, 45 minutes on English and language arts, and 22 minutes on science.

In a statement, Tamara Willis, superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, said: “Each year, teachers spend an inordinate amount of time preparing students to pass the PSSA. The current system has resulted in a low of creativity and innovation within our classrooms and growing pressure for teachers to ‘teach to the test.’ Shortening the PSSA will restore much-needed instructional time and give teachers greater autonomy to address the needs and inspire the creativity of every learner.”

The Philadelphia School District issued a statement in favor of the move, saying that it "welcomes the recent reduction in PSSA test-taking time that Gov. Wolf announced Monday. Research shows that these types of reductions, which result in increased instructional time, are beneficial to students. The District will continue to work on its own and with the state to maximize learning time for students."

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, also applauded the decision.

PSEA vice president Dolores McCracken said in a statement: “Gov. Wolf today reaffirmed what educators have been saying for a long time—that too much emphasis on standardized testing interferes with teaching and learning. PSEA members are eager to work with the governor to continue to make common-sense, research-based changes to our state’s testing policies. We want to make sure that our testing policies work for our students, teachers, and support professionals. Public schools are places where students learn. By creating a more balanced, research-based, and appropriate use of standardized tests in Pennsylvania’s public schools, we can find the right balance — and do what’s right for our kids.”

Earlier this year, the PSEA produced a policy brief on standardized testing, in which they advocated for reducing the time spent on testing, separating Keystone Exams from graduation, and ensuring that statewide standardized tests are used only for government accountability requirements.

The PDE plans to identify ways to further reduce time spent on standardized testing.

Details about the PSSA reduction and the Future Ready PA Index are available in Pennsylvania’s ESSA Consolidated State Plan on the Education Department’s website. The plan is open to public comments until Aug. 31.