Testing in Pennsylvania: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2008-2009 Pennsylvania used the Pennsylvania System of State Assessments (PSSA) to test students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 in reading and math, in grades 5, 8 and 11 in writing, and in grades 4, 8 and 11 in science. The PSSA is a standards-based test that measures how well students are meeting the state's grade-level expectations.

How are the tests scored?

PSSA results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of four levels: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.

Which scores are included on GreatSchools profiles?

The results displayed in GreatSchools profiles are for accountability purposes and reflect the performance of students who have been enrolled for the full academic year. The results for reading, writing and math are displayed on GreatSchools profiles. For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at and above the proficient level is displayed.

GreatSchools also displays subgroup results to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. These subgroups are identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education; if there are fewer than 10 students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.

Why do the tests matter?

Pennsylvania test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. While high school students are not required to pass an exam in order to graduate, they do need to show that they have mastered the state standards - either by scoring at or above the proficient level on the grade 11 PSSA or by demonstrating proficiency in other ways as determined by their school district.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for obtaining supplemental services or for transferring to a higher-performing school.

A few parting words

Test results don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school, although they can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

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