The expanded use of student testing to determine student and school performance, district distress and teacher proficiency is the wrong approach at the wrong time.

Instead of relying on a deficient student testing system that is neither a fair evaluator of student and school performance nor an indicator of school district distress and teaching quality, Pennsylvania needs a fair, responsible student testing system that truly reflects performance in the classroom.

The stakes are high. Taxpayers need to fully understand that the state Department of Education holds immense power and can categorize a school district as non or underperforming. This characterization could have a wide-ranging negative effect, not only for the school district itself, but also for the communities that are part of the district.

How can local mayors and council market their communities as a good place to live and raise a family when their school district has been identified as non or underperforming? This designation starts the vicious cycle of where a school district cannot attract residents or businesses to add to the tax base. The district then struggles to make ends meet or heal because the state’s designation has tarnished its marketability.

The problem is this: Pennsylvania uses the results of the flawed testing for an increasing number of unorthodox purposes. And that’s not all.

Our current student performance testing costs way too much, is administered by an out-of-state company and is unfair to teachers, schools, students and communities. The testing results may spur forced public school mergers, increased local school taxes and the sickening of fiscally healthy schools.

Pennsylvania relies heavily on a system of student testing that has been panned by the education community as ineffective. Using unreliable student testing for performance evaluations is a simplistic approach that blames rather than repairs.

Schools administer the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests to evaluate student proficiency. These will soon be succeeded by Keystone Exams for high school juniors.

The tests are administered and processed through a Minnesota company that has a contract through 2014. They will process the Keystone Exams once that test replaces the PSSA for some grade level testing. The cost for the tests this year will top $50 million.

NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requires that students achieve 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. The target for students to reach in 2012 is 78 percent proficiency or advanced in math and 81 percent proficiency in reading. The targets for 2011 were 67 percent and 72 percent respectively.

In 2010-11, 73.5 percent of Pennsylvania students were advanced or proficient in reading. In math, Pennsylvania students scored 77.1 percent advanced or proficient. To date, 31 states have opted out of the NCLB because the goals are unattainable.

I have spoken to many professional educators. They believe the PSSA tests fail to account for socio-economic, environmental, economic disparities and cultural differences. No responsible educator believes schools can reach that federal performance benchmark in 2014.

Districts have resorted to teaching to the test in a desperate effort to make yearly performance benchmarks. This takes away a teacher’s ability to use their individual skills and creativity to meet the needs of students.

What’s worse is that the new distressed school and expanded voucher-like tax credit laws use test results as gauges of school achievement. Student test scores are factored into the determination of whether a school is failing and where a student goes for an education.

This isn’t the only problem that school districts are confronting. More than 70 percent of districts have increased their local taxes since education funding was slashed in Gov. Corbett’s state budgets.

Pennsylvania needs a responsible system to ascertain the performance of teachers and the performance of schools and students. The dependence on an unsound evaluation system based on student test scores should not be the tipping point for a school or its students.

I will be introducing a resolution to create a non-partisan commission composed of stakeholders such as administrators, teachers, parents and students that will be able to craft a reasonable, responsible and fair student performance assessment system.

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