A group of teachers cheered earlier this week when Gov. Tom Wolf announced his administration’s plans to reduce the amount of classroom time devoted to standardized tests by 20 percent.
For some local schools, that could mean gaining up to two days of instruction time, which is a “big win for our students,” said Sharon Balban, a Penns Valley Elementary and Intermediate School sixth-grade teacher.
(It) is a big win for our students. We create learning experiences for mastery of the standards all year long. By reducing the disruption of continuous learning, our students have their time invested in what is proven to yield growth — direct instruction time
Sharon Balban, Penns Valley Area sixth-grade teacher
“We create learning experiences for mastery of the standards all year long,” she said. “By reducing the disruption of continuous learning, our students have their time invested in what is proven to yield growth — direct instruction time.”
Many educators in Centre County said the new state proposal is a step in the right direction toward limiting standardized testing, but reform still needs to be made.
State College Area High School science teacher Eugene Ruocchio said more class time for teaching and learning means more time for teachers to be a positive influence on students, but added that he doesn’t doesn’t believe the plan will “impact the amount of time teachers spend on test (preparation).”
That’s partially because curriculum covered on tests like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, or PSSA exams, is not being reduced, he said.
“Students will still need to be prepared for the styles of questions on these tests and how they are assessed,” said Ruocchio, who’s also the president of the State College Area Education Association. “The format used to assess students on the PSSA may be different from how the classroom teacher assesses the students throughout the year. Teachers attempt to ensure that students are prepared to see something different in order to ensure the students’ success and reduce any possible anxiety for students.”
Reduction in standardized test time to roll out in spring 2018
The changes, according to a statement from the governor, will roll out in spring 2018 during PSSA exams administered to students in third to eighth grade. Questions will be reduced on the test for English/language arts, math and science.
The state Department of Education worked with stakeholders across the commonwealth to address the concerns of teachers, students and parents, according to a report from the governor’s office.
“This reduction will ease the stress placed on our kids, and will allow students and teachers to focus more on learning than on testing,” Wolf said in a statement. “This change should also reassure parents that we’ve listened to their concerns about over-testing.”
Some administrators said a better way to determine students’ growth and success is “crafting quality rigorous lessons that challenge students” and help spark excitement in learning, Penns Valley Area Superintendent Brian Griffith said.
“The desire to learn, persevere and (think) critically are skills more imperative to a student’s future success than is a high score on a standardized test,” he said. “Nearly all educators recognized that standardized tests are not a predictor of future success (and) are insufficient to provide our teachers appropriate feedback on a student’s nuances of understanding.”