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High Stakes

Recently the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has barred Philadelphia teachers from administering the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test to their own students. The PSSA is a series of tests given to students in grades three through eight and grade 11. The assessments are in math, reading, writing, and science.

This development of teacher exclusion surfaced after an ongoing statewide investigation of cheating on the PSSA. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer the scandal involves 53 Philadelphia public schools and three city charter schools. In a recent Philadelphia Notebook article, PDE spokesman Tim Eller said that even though hundreds of schools in Philadelphia have not been flagged for any suspected testing irregularities, “The Department believes it is necessary to apply the policy districtwide.”

I don’t believe that makes sense at all. I never understood the concept of spreading the consequence amongst all. Cheating wasn’t found district-wide so there is no reason to affect all for the actions of some. Once again, band-aid solutions prevail whilst overlooking the root of the problem.

Cheating wouldn’t be a problem if this kind of testing wasn’t so high stakes. Students and teachers spend lots of time preparing for tests that have serious implications if scores are low. When schools get low scores they don’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a measurement to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to standardized test results. When this happens consistently, the consequence can be devastating. Low scores can put schools in a position where closure and other interventions look like better alternatives to continued poor performance. The amount of stress on both teachers and students is an unnecessary burden. Teachers and students have to worry about how test scores may hurt the existence of their school. The reality of losing their school, their job, and their students is exactly what drives teachers to cheat. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer article “extraordinary security measures have been imposed on city schools, including requiring teachers administering the tests to sign statements acknowledging that criminal penalties may be sought if wrongdoing is found.” The real criminal act is that standardized tests shortchange the educational opportunities of both students and their instructors.

Teachers and students spend far too much time preparing for a test which will essentially make or break the foundation of a school community. Furthermore, passing a standardized test doesn’t show any applicable skill-set other than you can do well on a test. It doesn’t require a critical mind to complete. It doesn’t show what knowledge students possess. Its all about filling in bubbles and giving responses. I can only ponder what real knowledge our students take into the future if all they know is test taking. The exclusion of teachers that students have been preparing for the PSSA with really isn’t the solution to the issue at hand. Students and teachers will still feel the pressure to get high scores.


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