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Educational Leadership & Student Assessment in Pennsylvania
Student assessment has recently become a matter of great controversy in Pennsylvania, as many critics argue that it is not an accurate measure of students' attainment of the state's academic standards.
For example, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) is designed to assess the quality of public schools and make the information known to parents, teachers, school districts, and the general public (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2001).
However, the PSSA, has been criticized by many people within the professional education community, who say that standardized tests like the PSSA pose many problems and cannot be considered accurate and fair for all students (Kucinski, 2001).
For one, critics claim that there is little evidence that the PSSA, or any state test, is valid, as it fails to adequately measure attainment of the academic standards. Also, the "high-stakes" test places pressure on schools to achieve high scores (Kucinski, 2001).
As a result, the curriculum is in danger of being reduced to "test-prepping," which may produce higher test scores, but lower actual academic achievement. Therefore, the PSSA produces the exact opposite of its intended effect.
The PSSA is considered a "high-stakes test," meaning that there are high stakes riding on the results of the test. The test was designed to inform the state leadership, aid the development of public policy and serve as the measure of accountability for educational leaders (Kucinski, 2001). The PSSA is aligned to the state standards.
However, recently, many questions have risen as to whether or not the PSSA is a good measure of whether or not students meet the state standard. The problem with the PSSA is that, while it serves to inform public policy and accountability, it is also widely assumed that the PSSA will drive school reform, as well as improve classroom instruction.
However, its role as an assessment instrument does not permit this. As a result, many say that it serves as a hindrance to Pennsylvania schools, which are subsequently pressured to produce good results, because the schools are forced to change their curriculums to adhere to the test's content.
In addition, while Pennsylvania has recently passed a law requiring schools to put the PSSA results on student transcripts, students are, for the most part, not held accountable for their results.
Opponents of the PSSA say that it is not a valuable diagnostic and prescriptive tool, as it holds little value for individual students (Kucinski, 2001). Critics argue that if the PSSA is even designed to help individual students, it should not be limited in its administration to intervals of every few years, especially when results are received six months after the test is given.
These and other concerns from leading educators in Pennsylvania raise serious issues regarding the merit of using PSSA scores as an assessment tool for the development of an accountability system. As a result, many state leaders have recommended the abandonment of our current practice of using the PSSA as a sole measurement of student attainment of the state standards.
Instead, many leaders suggest that schools use multiple indicators of academic achievement for this purpose. In the meantime, schools are being urged to consider remediation strategies to increase test scores.
This research paper will develop a remedial plan for Southern Lehigh High School, which will be instituting required computer-based instruction in its "Learning Lab" to help students who are at the basic or below basic level on their middle school PSSA exam. Students will be removed from study halls and required to participate.
As part of this research paper, I will provide a history of the PSSA and identify areas in which the program is lacking. In addition, I will describe the implications of PSSA on public schools. Next, I will describe the current software programs available for PSSA exams in high schools.
As the second part of my paper, I will discuss the instruments and procedures required to implement computer-based remediation software into the Learning Lab of Southern Lehigh School, as well as describe how success can be measured and improvements can be made.
Review of Literature
History of PSSA
Since 1970, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2001) has been conducting statewide school assessments. The first assessment was the Educational Quality Assessment of EQA, which was designed to provide an overview of schools and district programs. This program was administered from 1970 to 1988.
The second statewide assessment, which was called the Test of Essential Learning and Literacy Skills (TELLS), was designed to identify students who needed help in specific areas, including reading and mathematics (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2001). This program was administered from 1984 to 1991.
The third assessment program began in 1992 and is known as the Pennsylvania system of School Assessment (PSSA). This program was initially designed as a curricular overview for schools and districts. However, in 1995, an individual student performance report was added.
Basically the idea behind the system is to gather information and identify subject areas in which individual student show strengths and areas that need improvement (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2001). In addition, assessments aim to verify what students are learning in the classroom by provide a way to assess the quality of the curriculum and how well it has been implemented, as well as assess the school district's programs.
Basically, the program's set-up is simple. Every year, students in grades 5, 8, and 11 at all 501 school districts in Pennsylvania take reading and mathematics assessments (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2001). In at least one-third of the school districts, students in grades 6 and 9 produce a writing sample.
Each student completes two sets of items for reading and for mathematics. The first set consists of different groups of items distributed randomly, allowing broader coverage of the reading and mathematics content taught by individual schools. For the writing sample, sixth and ninth graders complete essays on one of nine randomly assigned prompts in three modes of writing.
The areas of knowledge were selected by groups of educators throughout Pennsylvania, including elementary, junior and senior high school teachers, supervisors, curriculum directors, and college specialists.
When the tests were completed, three copies of the individual student results for mathematics and reading are distributed to the school districts and sent to parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and/or principals. The state will not receive any reports with individual names included.
Results are reported by schools for curricular and planning purposes. School districts will publish the results of the PSSA for each school. The state will also release school-by-school assessment data.
While the PSSA has been helpful in assessing the quality of education in schools, it has been criticized for its attempts to be the sole assessment of Pennsylvania schools. According to the Department of Education, the purpose of the PSSA is to "guide the design of curricula and instructional strategies to enable students to achieve the academic standards." Therefore, PSSA scores should not to be used to rank schools.
Research shows that standardized tests results are significantly influenced by the socio-economic background and educational level of the parents. Therefore, this method of assessment and evaluation shows an achievement gap between rich and poor students, between white students and minority students. Therefore, the real factor in determining a school's performance is to look at how it meets the needs of all students.
Implications of PSSA on Public Schools In Pennsylvania
The PSSA is of concern to those affiliated with public schools, including educational leaders, school districts, students, teachers and parents, for a variety of reasons. For one, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education use PSSA scores to evaluate how well each school district's curriculum and instruction are aligned to state standards and to what degree its students are performing in individual schools (Matsook, 2003). If a school does not measure up for two consecutive years, it is labeled as a "Failing School," which leads to increasing levels of consequences.
In addition, recent rules require that students score at a level of proficiency on the PSSA writing, reading, and math exams during their junior year of high school in order to graduate. Otherwise, they will have to pass a local assessment test. The class of 2003 is the first class that must meet this requirement. Before this, students were unaccountable for their scores, which contributed to the inaccuracy of the testing mechanism. In addition, PSSA test scores now appear on students' transcripts.
A program known as "No Child Left Behind" has placed an increasing amount of pressure on public schools, as it requires that a percentage of students score at proficient on the reading and math tests (Matsook, 2003). If districts fail to meet these standards, they are placed on a "Failing Schools" list and plan for improvements.
These percentage levels increase every year for twelve years. By 2014, the government expects 100% of the students to be at proficient. While this method is designed to hold public schools accountable, it ignores the fact that too many variables that get…[continue]
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