Results reflect actual student performance; investigation of 2009, 2010 and 2011 exams impact statewide scores
HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 21, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As a result of the statewide investigation of adults making changes to students' answer sheets on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, combined with increased testing security measures put into place earlier this year, statewide scores on the 2011-12 PSSAs declined slightly from last year, Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said today.
As the investigation has uncovered, in some schools, adult alteration of student answer sheets was so widespread that test scores dropped significantly.
In 2011-12, the PSSAs were completed by more than 930,000 students. Math and reading PSSAs are administered to students in grades 3 through 8 and 11; the writing PSSA is administered to students in grades 5, 8 and 11; and the science PSSA is administered to students in grades 4, 8 and 11.
"These exams provide students, parents, taxpayers, teachers, administrators and state officials with a sense of how well students demonstrate the knowledge and skills required for their grade level," Tomalis said. "A student who achieves proficient or advanced on the test is considered to be performing at-or-above grade level."
Statewide, 75.7 percent of students performed at-or-above grade level in math; 71.9 percent of students performed at-or-above grade level in reading; 73.2 percent of students performed at-or-above grade level in writing; and 61.4 percent of students performed at-or-above grade level in science.
"Compared to the 2010-11 results, the 2011-12 the percent of proficient or advanced students declined by 1.4 percentage points in math and 1.6 percentage points in reading," Tomalis said, during a press conference today in Harrisburg.
Although the PSSA investigation only focused on three years of testing, it's highly probable that tampering took place prior to 2009. As a result, the 2011-12 PSSA scores accurately reflect the work of students, not the efforts of those who are only interested in preserving the image of an educational institution and its personnel.
"The 2011-12 PSSA scores should be viewed as a reset point for student achievement in Pennsylvania," Tomalis said. "This is the first year the department can confidently report that PSSA scores are a true reflection of student achievement and academic progress."
In mid-2011, a report surfaced indicating significant increases in student test scores in several school districts and charter schools across the state. The department immediately initiated an investigation into PSSA testing irregularities.
During the past year, with the assistance of the Office of Inspector General, the department's investigation determined that student answer sheets had been altered, dating back to the 2008-09 school year, and as a result, the PSSA scores were inflated.
"When a few individuals act inappropriately, everyone, including students, is negatively impacted," Tomalis said. "The most unfortunate victims of adult testing improprieties were the students who deserved the opportunity to illustrate and assess their abilities, and receive additional help if necessary."
The investigation confirmed that the statewide gains in student achievement and the increases in student scores at some schools in the past several years were not genuine.
Although personnel actions have been taken against a small number of those who participated in tampering of student answer sheets, active investigations continue in several school districts and charter schools where alteration of test answer sheets was pervasive.
"Under the direction of Governor Corbett, the department has been deliberate in its investigation of questionable behavior because we recognize that the majority of Pennsylvania's educators are honest professionals and accusing any of these individuals of misconduct is serious," Tomalis said.
Based on the 2009 report, the department investigated 48 school districts and charter schools. Earlier this year, 30 were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The investigation was closed in three school districts: Berwick Area School District, Columbia County; Big Beaver Falls Area School District, Beaver County; and New-Kensington-Arnold School District, Westmoreland County.
In six school districts and charter schools, the investigation was closed; however, the department will continue to monitor each school: Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County; Chester Community Charter School, Delaware County; Delaware Valley School District, Pike County; Derry Area School District, Westmoreland County; the School District of Lancaster, Lancaster County; School District of the City of Monessen, Westmoreland County.
Investigations continue in nine school districts and charter schools: Harrisburg City School District, Dauphin County; Hazleton Area School District, Luzerne County; Imhotep Institute Charter High School, Philadelphia; Philadelphia Electrical and Technical Charter High School; the School District of Philadelphia; Pittsburgh School District, Allegheny County; Reading School District, Berks County; Scranton School District, Lackawanna County; and Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, Philadelphia.
"In the coming weeks, the department will file complaints against more than 100 educators who have been involved in misconduct in administration of the PSSA," Tomalis said. "The department will later determine if charges need to be filed in these matters before the Professional Standards and Practices Commission."
Increased Test Security Measures
In addition to the investigation, for the administration of the 2011-12 PSSAs, the department implemented tighter test security requirements at schools where improprieties were suspected and stressed the importance of testing procedures at every school across the state.
As a result of the additional security measures, such as monitoring testing procedures by department personnel, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in the investigated schools have dropped precipitously from last year.
"The only plausible explanation is that in some schools, an environment was fostered where altering student tests was tolerated. As part of the department's investigation, these practices were eliminated and the scores we see today are an accurate reflection of student achievement," Tomalis said.
The department's statewide investigation of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 PSSAs has brought to light a disturbing pattern of inappropriate behavior, such as coordinated efforts to alter student answer sheets to artificially inflate a student's and a school's performance.
Furthermore, the investigation revealed that those involved in the tampering of testing materials strategically manipulated thousands of answer sheets to give the appearance of student growth.
With test scores now reflective of actual student performance, further initiatives are under way to ensure that students are prepared to enter the workforce or continue to pursue advanced educational options following high school graduation.
These include: implementing the Pennsylvania Common Core, which is more rigorous academic standards than those currently in place. Public schools across the state continue to transition their curriculum to these new standards, giving students a global competitive edge.
In addition, beginning this school year, students in middle and high school will complete the Keystone Exams upon completion of three content-specific courses: algebra I, biology and literature.
The Keystone Exams are rigorous, end-of course exams designed to assess a student's mastery of the state's academic standards. Students in 11th-grade will be required to take the Keystone Exams in place of the PSSAs to determine if a school and district are making adequate yearly progress (AYP).
A score of at least proficient on the Keystone Exams will be required for high school graduation based upon the following roll-out schedule:
- The class of 2017 will be required to successfully complete three exams: algebra I, biology and literature;
- The class of 2019 will be required to successfully complete four exams: algebra I, biology, literature and composition; and
- The class of 2020 will be required to successfully complete five exams: algebra I, biology, literature, composition, and civics and government.
The State Board of Education is also considering the development of five additional Keystone Exams for schools to voluntarily use to assess a student's mastery of other content areas, such as geometry, algebra II, chemistry, U.S. history and world history.
"These additional measures are intended to ensure that students are prepared with the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful beyond high school," Tomalis said.
"The ability of Pennsylvania's students to achieve will never be fully measured by a single exam and not every student will excel at the academic aspects of traditional public education.
"The subject-specific Keystone Exams and an expansion of educational options in traditional and nontraditional public schools will continue to provide a more accurate picture of the skills and talents possessed by our diverse student population," Tomalis said.
Adequate Yearly Progress
In addition, under requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, districts and schools are required to meet specific AYP targets, such as student performance and participation on the math and reading exams, including students who are classified into certain demographic subgroups, and a school's attendance or graduation rate.
The AYP student performance target for the 2011-12 school year was 78 percent for math and 81 percent for reading, compared to 67 percent and 72 percent, respectively, in 2010-11.
Of the 499 school districts in Pennsylvania that administer the PSSAs, 304, or 60.9 percent, made AYP in 2011-12. Of the 2,898 public schools statewide, 1,459, or 50.3 percent, of schools made AYP in 2011-12.
Many districts and schools did not make AYP due to new federal regulations that require high school graduation rates to be calculated using the four-year cohort graduation method. Additionally, the graduation rate is now applied to all measurable student subgroups.
Editor's note: PSSA and AYP results for schools and districts can be found on PDE's website at www.education.state.pa.us by clicking on the "2011-12 PSSA Results" icon.
Media Contact: Tim Eller, 717-783-9802
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Education