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English and reading scores for Pennsylvania students still below pre-pandemic levels

English and reading scores for Pennsylvania students still below pre-pandemic levels
English and reading scores for Pennsylvania students still below pre-pandemic levels 02:40

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Student English language scores that include reading are still well below pre-pandemic levels in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Education Department reports.

It's the latest results from standardized tests taken last spring.

Every spring, students in grades three through eight take their PSSA tests in school. It's the Pennsylvania System of State Assessments to measure student proficiency in English, including reading and math.

This year's scores in English declined for the second year in a row. Take third graders. Only 52 percent were proficient at their grade level compared to nearly 62 percent in 2019 before the pandemic.

In every grade, fewer students today are at grade level in English compared to three years ago.

PSSA Student Proficiency in English

                         2022           2019

3rd grade         52.3%       61.9%

4th grade         52.2%       63.6%

5th grade         53.6%       58.5%

6th grade         56.1%       63.0%

7th grade         57.2%       60.4%

8th grade         55.6%       57.9% 

"It's not acceptable to have scores like that," Dr. Linda Hippert told KDKA's Jon Delano on Tuesday.

Hippert is a Point Park University professor and a former South Fayette and Fox Chapel school superintendent. She says it's unacceptable but understandable given the disruption suffered by young children during the pandemic.

"Many of them were traumatized by what occurred," Hippert said. "They missed out on a lot of learning. I know in talking with elementary school principals, when students came back to school at those early grade levels, they were actually re-teaching them how to behave in a classroom."

Educators hoped 2022 scores would be better than 2021 but that was only true for seventh and eighth graders. Math scores did improve but still lagged. 

English and reading scores for students in Pa. still below pre-pandemic levels 02:36

Dr. Bob Scherrer, head of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit that represents many local school districts, is optimistic but notes we're still a way from 100 percent proficiency.

"We're hopeful that we can get back to pre-pandemic levels here in 2023, but we also know that those levels weren't where we wanted them to be prior to the pandemic," Scherrer said.

The latest scores come as Governor-elect Josh Shapiro will soon take office, pledging to end reliance on standardized tests. Hippert says the validity of these tests is debatable.

Delano: "Is this a useful tool to measure student achievement?"

Hippert:  "That is a question that we have been debating for many, many, many years."

Shapiro questions the tests.  Last June, he tweeted, "Our children's future shouldn't be shaped by standardized tests.  As governor, I'll end reliance on standardized tests and focus on funding arts, history, and civics."

But federal law requires some testing to get federal education dollars, about 11 percent of the state's school funding.

"In order for states and therefore districts to receive federal funding, every school district must provide and must administer standardized tests," says Hippert.

in a statement to KDKA, a Shapiro spokesperson said, first, the new governor will look at broad testing opt-out legislation.

"On standardized testing, the Shapiro-Davis administration will look at broad testing opt-out legislation to give parents the power to remove their children from standardized tests. Pennsylvania currently only allows students to opt out for religious reasons."

And, second, the administration will look for effective alternatives to tests.

"The administration will look to research and national models that have proven effective, including alternatives to standardized tests, like school evaluations centered around project-based and portfolio-based assessments, which measure student progress based on papers, presentations, reports, and projects submitted over time. "

Scherrer says that may be possible.

"We can look at other ways that we can measure student success and student performance," he says. "I think there is an opportunity for us to look at how we can holistically measure all the things that are important as we move students through a K-12 education."

Not clear yet what will meet federal approval, but the new governor seems determined to make some changes when it comes to standardized tests.  

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