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Superintendent's PSSA/Keystone Exam Letter to Families

March 19, 2019

 

Dear Kutztown Area School District Families,

Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) informed all school districts of a change required by the federal government that impacted how schools are evaluated. The change was with regards to how “opt-outs” are calculated on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams.

As has been the law for several years, parents are able to “opt-out” of the PSSA tests by stating that they do not wish their child to take the exam(s) for religious reasons. Our district will not encourage, discourage, or penalize any child in any way whose parents choose to opt-out of the PSSA or Keystone exam(s). I do, however, want to provide information regarding the change in how achievement is calculated on the PSSA and Keystone exams per federal and state regulations.

Previously, students who opted out of these exams were not factored into the school district’s overall school proficiency calculation or School Performance Profile. According to the guidelines from PDE, schools are required to have a 95% participation rate. If participation is at or above 95%, opt-outs are not part of the calculation. When participation falls below 95%, each opted-out student below that threshold is counted as non-proficient. In those cases, opting out of the exam(s) will lower our overall scores, which in turn impacts many other areas such as our district ranking and teacher and principal evaluations. I continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, State Legislators, and other school district superintendents to improve the current system.

Standardized testing in itself is not a bad thing. Our students will take numerous standardized tests in their lifetime including SATs, Advanced Placement exams, ACTs, driver's license exams, LSATs, MCATs, and other industry certification exams to name a few. However, I have numerous concerns with how the PSSA and Keystone exams are used in Pennsylvania. First, the inability of teachers, students, and parents to review the scored exams inhibits our ability to improve our programs. Secondly, the school proficiency calculation does not completely measure the effectiveness of a school or teacher or the level of understanding a child might truly have gained.

The good news is that last year the Department of Education reduced PSSA testing time by one-third. Each exam has fewer questions which will allow for less disruption to instruction. All students in grades 3-8 will complete the English Language Arts assessments on April 9-11 and the Mathematics assessments on April 24-26 (Elementary- April 24-25; KAMS- April 25-26). All students in grades 4 and 8 will complete the PSSA Science assessments on April 29 - May 1. The Keystone exams in English Language Arts, Algebra I, and Biology will occur between May 13-22.

If you have specific questions about the PSSA or Keystone exams, please contact your child's building principal. You can also visit our district website for more information, www.kasd.org/PSSA.

We are proud of our students, staff, and schools. The PSSA and Keystone exams, imperfect as they may be, are one way of showcasing the abilities and hard work of students and staff. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at GFiore@kasd.org or 610-683-7361 ext. 5521.

 

Sincerely,

Dr. George F. Fiore, Superintendent