Later this month I will join a cadre of educational leaders from around the state at a Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) stakeholder session focused on re-examining educational policies in the Commonwealth. One of the key topics to be addressed is assessment practices, including the role of statewide standardized tests like the PSSAs and Keystone exams. I am hopeful that this gathering -- the first in a series of workshops and discussions on these issues -- will yield progress in eliminating high-stakes testing from our schools. Over the past few years, parents, educators and elected officials in Lower Merion School District and across the country have consistently voiced their opposition to high-stakes testing for a variety of sound educational and developmental reasons. Weeks of instructional time are lost as a result of testing. Day after day of long testing hours can impact student wellbeing and mental health. Linking teacher performance to test results increases the pressure to emphasize test prep at the expense of more meaningful learning experiences. Perhaps most importantly, many standardized assessments have proven to be of limited use in evaluation and enhancing student achievement.
The week of April 11 begins a long stretch of state testing. We begin with the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and conclude with Biology Keystone Exams in late May. I have been very vocal with our legislators and community about my feelings that there are simply too many standardized tests and too much pressure put on our students to do well on these exams. For the past two years, our school performance scores have been among the top 10 in the state (among 500 school districts.) We know how to help our students achieve high scores on these tests. But at what cost?
The amount of time and worry spent on these tests is dizzying. We are stressing out our students, teachers, administrators, and parents, and I believe it is simply time to stop and do what we feel is best for our students. This year I asked our administrators and teachers to focus less on these tests and instead focus on teaching our district-wide standards for each grade level and subject, measuring progress in the classroom, and trying to provide a more relaxed atmosphere as we head into these state-mandated tests.
I believe our school district’s worth and the value of our students and what they’re learning should not be measured by a single test on a single day. Certainly we need tools for evaluation, but our current testing climate is simply toxic. You won’t find students in the many elite private schools in our region spending weeks taking standardized tests. Yet our students are asked to endure that in the quest to measure what they have learned.
THE SUGARY-DRINK tax proposed by Mayor Kenney, also known as the "soda tax," is controversial because it takes a greater share of the income from poor families than rich ones. And since we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center are fundamentally committed to economic justice, we are always inclined to be suspicious of taxes that do that. So it may come as a surprise that we have concluded, overall, that the sugary-drink tax proposed by the mayor is a good idea. Though the costs fall more heavily on those with low incomes, for two reasons, more of the benefit of the tax will go to low-income Philadelphians, as well. The first benefit of the tax flows from how the new revenue will be spent - on pre-K education, community schools, and parks and community recreation centers.
- 2017 President Elect (one-year term)
- 2017 Vice President (one-year term)
- 2017-19 Central Section at Large Representative – includes Regions 4, 5, 6, 9 and 12 (three-year term)
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377