The most prominent state level assessment in Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, or PSSA's. (“Pennsylvania System of School Assessments”). Students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 are assessed in reading skills and mathematics. Students in grades 5, 8, and 11 are assessed in writing skills. Students in grades 4, 8, and 11 are assessed in natural science(“Pennsylvania System of School Assessments”).
Reading School District collects assessment data in a number of ways. The district publishes an annual district report card (“Reading School District”) which shows overall achievement of students within the district. Included in this report is attendance and graduation rates, PSSA, PSSA-M, and PASA results, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), Teacher Qualifications, and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data.
Reading Senior High School, the school in which I teach, administers a number of different assessments including PSSA's, Keystones, 4Sights, ASVAB's, Advanced Placement tests, PSAT's, and SAT's.
For the Advanced Placement testing, Reading offers a dual enrollment program with Reading Area Community College (RACC). This program allows students to earn college credits at RACC based on completion of an AP class in our school. Students are not required to achieve a certain score on the AP test in order to qualify for the dual enrollment. Besides the dual enrollment benefit, the students also benefit because the school district pays for their AP test fees and they have an opportunity to earn college credits at colleges other than RACC. This year, Reading administered six different AP tests to a total of 220 students, including 69 students who took the AP History test.
Our school has an extremely high level of focus on preparation for the PSSA testing which starts with a 100-Day plan used 100 school days prior to the beginning of testing. The impact of this plan in my math classes is that I spend at least one day per week for over three months with a PSSA focus. All math classes are required to work through this 100-Day plan in all of their classes, not just classes with 11th grade students. The focus on PSSA preparation has a significant impact on the amount of curriculum material we are able to cover in the classroom.
Probably like many teachers, I have a “love/hate” relationship with standardized testing. I certainly understand the need for our school to be aligned with state and national standards regarding the progress of our students. But the volume of classroom time spent in test preparation and the disruption of the school schedule during the month of testing can become frustrating to what I would view as “progress” in navigating my planned curriculum. It is also difficult for our non-PSSA students to understand why they are doing PSSA preparation on a topic which is disjoint from the normal curriculum. For example, my 9th grade Algebra I students have a difficult time understanding how to solve quadratic equations, a topic which is not covered until we are well into the Algebra II curriculum. I believe the Keystone tests will be a step in the right direction, as they will be targeted to specific subject areas – Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry in Mathematics – rather than a general PSSA Mathematics test, as administered today.
Reading school district report card. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.readingsd.net/www/readingsd/site/hosting/districtnews/RSD%2009%2010%20Report%20Card.pdf
Pennsylvania system of school assessments. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pennsylvania_system_of_school_assessment_%28pssa%29/8757