– With the support of area school superintendents, Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland) and Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia), Republican Caucus Secretary, unveiled a plan to eliminate the annual Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing system used by public schools and replace it with benchmark testing technology.
“The current process is flawed. PSSA tests rob schools of up to three weeks of instruction time and it takes months before results are returned. The Commonwealth deserves a better system,” Nelson said. “It is time we stop teaching to the test and move forward with a system that tracks student growth. Benchmark testing is less expensive and provides real-time results to ensure student learning.”
PSSA testing began in 1992. Each April, Pennsylvania students in grades three through eight are assessed in English Language Arts and Math. Students in grades four and eight are assessed in science. The cost to taxpayers for PSSA testing is nearly $50 million annually.
Many schools already use benchmark testing technology because of how quickly information is provided. It uses competitive assessments, and it provides real-time performance data to parents and teachers, which becomes useful in tracking individual education plans and academic performance. In many cases, schools use benchmark tests a few times a year to better track student performance.
“Benchmark testing technology is superior because it provides an objective, standardized, and nationally recognized way to evaluate and compare student performance, which helps teachers and administrators in decision-making and improving classroom innovation and efficiency,” White said.
Nelson introduced this legislation with White as a signal of statewide support for this change. Their bill would enable a minimum of three benchmark assessments during a child’s school year. Aggregate data of schools and district results would be publicly available.
While researching the topic, Nelson spoke frequently with area school superintendents.
"The current system is archaic, expensive, and burdensome for students and staff. It provides no value because it fails to actually measure what our students truly must know, understand, and be able to do to be successful in today's world,” said Franklin Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Gennaro Piraino. “Schools already use benchmark testing as an existing assessment tool to provide real-time educational performance data for students, while educators and administrators use the data to track individual student and classroom performance against national standards. Together, we can build a system that both provides for accountability and the need for critical tools necessary to provide our teachers with the information essential to make important instructional decisions."
“Our current PSSA system is not getting it done, which is why many schools pay for better, more valuable benchmark assessments. It is time to find a solution that holds schools accountable for student learning and growth and can be used by children, parents, guardians and educators.” said Greensburg Salem School District Superintendent Dr. Kenneth A. Bissell, “Nationally normed interim benchmark testing provides students, parents, guardians, and educators with real-time information to help provide individualized instruction, set learning goals, and monitor progress and growth. Our accountability system should help schools monitor their ability to help children learn and grow.”
"Benchmark assessments provide a means of measuring growth over time, rather than a single snapshot of a student's achievement, such as the PSSAs,” said Hempfield Area School District Superintendent Dr. Tammy S. Wolicki. “We need to move away from a system that consumes so much instructional time and does not provide timely feedback."
Representative Eric Nelson
57th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jordan Frei
Representative Martina White
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster