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Science Scores Soar, But All Other PA Test Scores Flat In 2018

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS - Student performance on Pennsylvania's suite of standardized tests didn't change much in 2018, with the exception of science scores, which shot up 12 percentage points.

The results, released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, show no improvement in math and reading tests given annually to elementary and middle school students. Similarly, there was little change in how high school students fared on algebra, literature, and biology Keystone Exams.

The one major change came in science tests given to 4th and 8th graders.

In 2017, 52.7 percent of students scored advanced or proficient on those PSSA tests, meaning they performed at least at grade level. This year, the percent of students passing the science PSSA jumped to 64.8 percent.

Everywhere else, scores flatlined.

Although there was some improvement in individual grades -- offset by declines in other grades -- PSSA scores in math and english language arts were almost identical to their 2017 counterparts.

In 2018, 61.4 percent of Pennsylvania students tested advanced or proficient in English, compared to 61.2 percent in 2017.

In math, 42.0 percent of students tested advanced or proficient, against 42.6 percent a year ago.

The story was the same on Pennsylvania's Keystone Exams, which students can take multiple times. The results reported by the department include each student's best score on each exam by the time they finish 11th grade.

Algebra pass rates declined very slightly (from 65.6 percent to 65.2 percent), Literature scores stayed exactly the same (at 72.7 percent), and Biology pass rates improved a bit (from 63.4 percent to 64.4 percent).

For years, Pennsylvania planned to use the Keystone Exams as a prerequisite for high school graduation. But lawmakers repeatedly delayed implementation of the Keystone requirement, and recently passed legislation that de-emphasizes the role these exams will play in determining whether students graduate.

A press release announcing the 2018 scores made no mention of the improved science scores or student performance at all. It did, however, highlight the fact that under Governor Tom Wolf, who is running for reelection, Pennsylvania reduced the amount of time students spend on standardized tests. PSSA tests for students in third-through-eighth grade are now 20 percent shorter, and the testing window this year will shrink from three weeks to two.

"Standardized tests can be one tool in helping identify content mastery of students and schools in support of planning and preparation, as well as meet federal and state reporting requirements," said Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera in the release. "However, lengthy standardized testing periods are not conducive to providing optimal learning environments, impacting students and teachers and reducing much needed instructional time and focus for districts. Recognizing this, the Wolf Administration has taken several steps to shift more time from assessment to teaching and learning."

Last year the state released test scores from the previous spring in late September. That included data on individual districts and schools.

This year, the state department of education says it won't release scores broken out by school until "mid- to late November."

The reason, officials say, is because they're developing a new school report card feature called "The Feature Ready PA Index," and the department wants to release 2018 scores when that new site is ready.