How to Read the PSSA Report

The PA Department of Education just distributed the results of last year’s PSSA testing. Those are the high-stakes tests that Pennsylvania students start taking in the 3rd grade. The fact that families are only getting these results now – six months after students took the actual tests – is the first big clue that these have nothing to do with actual student learning. Quality feedback must be timely, so that teachers can make adjustments to individual instruction and students can learn from their mistakes. But it’s September: students have started a whole new school year and don’t even have the same teachers they did in March.

These test results are largely meaningless. At least for students. Yet they are being used – inappropriately – to evaluate teachers and schools. To threaten, punish, and eliminate them. To justify mass school closures in our sister city of Philadelphia. To determine which schools are next on the chopping block in Pittsburgh.

Tests are only valid measurements of the things they were designed to measure. If they are designed to measure students’ mastery of a set of concepts, then they are measuring students. You cannot turn around and use them to measure how well teachers are teaching or how well schools are performing – that’s not what those particular tests were designed to evaluate. Education researchers and professionals know this, but it is education policy makers who are twisting student assessment to meet a set of ideological goals.

To help you see through the doublespeak, here’s our handy guide to reading your child’s PSSA report:



9 thoughts on “How to Read the PSSA Report

  1. Thanks for this. We’re hoping to move back to PA someday, where my extended family lives, and it’s good to stay informed.

    A quick question, based on my experiences here in Maryland: Our family got our kid’s test results (from March) back over the summer, but I don’t know when schools get the results. I imagine not soon enough for teachers or schools to remediate anything, but I would *hope* that it’s sooner than families do! Or not?

    • Schools and teachers do not receive these results during the same academic year. Teachers are not even allowed to see the questions, so they can’t help students who have their own questions about the exam afterwards — in other words, the test cannot be used as a learning experience. It is a blunt instrument meant to hammer schools, not improve teaching or help students.

  2. And, lest we not forget, in PA the law says kids don’t have to go to school until they are 8 years old, which is 3rd grade and the year testing begins. So of course these kids will be at grade level and be able to pass PSSAs with flying colors when they get to school. Don’t know how many actually don’t start school until 3rd, but I do know for sure that some kids don’t start until 1st grade, at which point they’re already way behind.

  3. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!
    Now lets hope that everyone will post, post, post so the word is spread far and wide the truth behind what these test are actually “meant” to measure versus the realty on what they are currently be utilized for!

  4. Pingback: The Modern Pencil | A Terribly Accurate Guide to Understanding the PSSA Report

  5. I still have not been able to get my hands on the 2013 PSSA results for Pittsburgh Public Schools (Colfax in particular). All the links on the state website are to 2011-2012 data, not the 2012-2013 data. Do you know where I get a copy of the current data?

  6. Pingback: How ‘field testing’ turns kids into guinea pigs — without parent permission

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