General Assembly Republicans in Pennsylvania Demand Dept. of Ed to Release 2021 Student Test Results
(The Center Square) – Republicans in the General Assembly are demanding the Pennsylvania Department of Education release student test results from 2021 to incorporate the data in budget and policy decisions.
Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Curt Sonney, R-Erie, penned a letter to Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Noe Ortega on Friday to demand the release of the 2021 Pennsylvania System School Assessment (PSSA) and “provide an explanation for the extensive delay of the public release of those results.”
The letter follows an invitation in November by the House Education Subcommittee on Basic Education for education department officials to testify about student learning loss during the pandemic. Department officials initially accepted the invitation then backed out and submitted written testimony instead that claimed officials “anticipate the availability of new and relevant data in the coming weeks.”
“Over three months later, however, the results of the 2021 PSSA tests still have not been released to the General Assembly and the public, as required,” Cutler and Sonney wrote. “Yet, it is our understanding that the individual results of the PSSA tests have been released to students and parents after being provided to local school districts as early as November 2021.”
Republican leaders acknowledged issues with PSSA testing in the spring of 2021, and an optional extension on testing through September 2021, but “the reality is that anecdotal evidence and a review of Pennsylvania school districts suggests that few districts took advantage of this extension,” they wrote.
“The release of PSSA test results is important to this legislative body as the results are used for a variety of public policy purposes, including the relevant budgeting and allocation of resources as well as the determination as to revisions to state education laws,” the letter read. “The 2022-23 budget process has begun, but without the test data we are at a great disadvantage in formulating an education plan that provides targeted support for those students and schools who may have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“Given the above, we see little reason to justify the delay in the public release of the scores from the 2021 PSSA tests; and, therefore, request their immediate release.”
Cutler contends that the department’s inaction fuels speculation about the student test data, and argued parents deserve to know the impact the pandemic has had on learning.
“Parents in every corner of the Commonwealth have concerns over what months of interrupted learning have truly meant for their children’s future,” Cutler said. “Part of that answer is in this data. The longer we wait for it to be published, the more questions will swirl over why it’s being delayed. I want to thank Chairmen Sonney for shining a light on this issue.”
The controversy surrounding the delayed PSSA data comes amid an ongoing lawsuit over the commonwealth’s school funding formula, as well as a recent report from the Independent Fiscal Office that examined standardized test scores from 2018-19 and found “the data suggest there is little or no correlation between the current expenditures spent per student and the share of students that score proficient or above on standardized tests.”
The IFO research is part of the work of the Performance-Based Budget Board, which consists of appropriations chairs of the four caucuses and the budget secretary, which gives Democrats a majority. The board ultimately voted to table the report, prompting accusations the board is attempting to hide the IFO’s findings from the public.
“Clearly they are trying to hide what the IFO found. Its independent review of the state’s education system convincingly shows that funding levels and student performance do not necessarily relate to each other,” said Rep. Torren Ecker, R-Adams, who serves as the designee for House Republicans. “It is very troubling that the House Republicans were the only voice on the Performance-Based Budgeting Board to oppose the tabling of the report before anyone could question the IFO or the Department of Education about their findings.”