Snow days scramble Pa. standardized test schedule

lfalce@centredaily.comFebruary 22, 2014 

Snow can close schools, delay buses and mess up day care plans.

But what about tests?

In Pennsylvania, elementary schools are measured by the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, the yardstick that helps the state and federal governments determine whether children are learning what they should be learning when they should be learning it.

With some schools missing a week or more of class for snow days, plus more time for morning delays and early dismissals because of weather, the scores this year might not be showing what some districts hoped.

As districts scramble to adjust calendars and hours in hopes of hitting the state Department of Education’s 180-day requirement, they are also pushing to get students prepared for tests that are just around the corner.

In 2014, third- through eighth-graders were scheduled to take math and reading standardized tests March 17-28. Fifth- and eighth-grade writing exams were to take place March 31 through April 4. Science tests for fourth and eighth grades were on the calendar April 28-May 2.

Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said that schedule has been modified due to the extraordinary weather. Schools have been given an extra week for the first round of testing, taking it to April 4. Make-up testing for those math and reading exams will change from March 31-April 4 to April 7-11. Writing tests were also given an extra week, taking them to April 11, with make-ups from April 14-25.

Science PSSA dates, as well as Keystone exams administered to secondary students at the end of May, will not be changed. The all-important reading and math dates are already almost a month ahead of 2013 test dates. Tests last year ran through April 19.

Districts are not required to follow the new schedule.

“We’re choosing to take advantage of extra time the state has given us,” said Philipsburg-Osceola Superintendent Gregg Paladina. “It’s a district-level decision.”

Paladina said his administration made the call after discussions with teachers.

In the past, PSSA scores have only affected districts. In 2014, for the first time, those numbers will also be part of the evaluation for teachers statewide.

State College, Bald Eagle and Penns Valley areas also will be using the state’s widened window.

“We have decided to take advantage of it,” said BEA Superintendent Jeff Miles. “We will take advantage of any opportunity we can.”

But at least one administrator isn’t phased by the snow’s effects on testing.

“I’m not concerned about PSSA scores,” said State College Superintendent Bob O’Donnell. “We are working diligently to evaluate our teachers based on the four domains of professional practice: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instructional practice and professionalism. Yes, we will also follow the state’s required calculations for the final performance score. However, we believe that our teachers will be very successful on their evaluations if they focus on what they can control, and we will support them as professionals through this process.”

O’Donnell siad he appreciates testing as a tool, but is sanguine about the value of the standardized tests.

“The PSSA is the least helpful assessment that we administer to our students because it takes four months before we receive the feedback,” he said.

Follow Lori Falce on Twitter @LoriFalce.

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