Changes in Pennsylvania

K-12 Testing

The Pennsylvania Board of Education officially told the state’s House Education Committee that it has no plans to implement a high school exit-exam. The Board said it made a conscious decision not to pursue a high-stakes graduation testing policy similar to those adopted in more than 20 other states due to concerns about over-reliance on a single instrument to provide performance information.


Currently, the state provides extra funding to schools scoring high on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, and lawmakers are discussing proposals to place a special seal on the diplomas of high scoring students. Both plans have drawn ire from educators for exacerbating inequities between wealthy and poorer schools. Thirty school districts have signed a resolution seeking abolition of the seals.


Despite criticism of the test as a barometer of academic achievement, in May the legislature authorized state intervention in districts in which a majority of students score in the bottom quarter on the state’s tests. Improvement plans with timelines will be crafted and some additional resources provided to these districts. The new law authorizes low-scoring districts to create charter or independent schools, reconstitute schools, or contract school administration to private groups. They are also required to establish “a system of academic accountability that provides for specific consequences for students,” schools and administrators. Should a district not show sufficient improvement after three years, it will be taken over by a state-appointed board until test scores rise. Philadelphia is one of 11 such districts now at risk of takeover, and two others, including Harrisburg, the state capitol, were taken over immediately.