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: