I Was a PSSA Apologist

Back when I first got into administration in 2005, the PSSA debate was beginning to rage. The tests had recently been added to grades 4, 6 and 7 and middle school and intermediate elementary teachers were beginning to lose their autonomy. Since I had recently graduated from graduate school, I believed that the tests were necessary. I would defend the tests by saying that the state just wanted to assure that teachers were teaching what was necessary for students to be successful. They had in effect given us a blueprint of what students should learn and we just needed to follow it. I remember a parent that was making her child cram to do well on the PSSA. The idea made me laugh because I knew that the test was meant to test schools and teachers not students. Even though now that seems very much like using student as pawns, it didn’t occur to me then.

Like the most faithful of religious zealots I drank of the proverbial Kool-Aid.

After eight years of thinking more critically I realize that the PSSA is punishing students in order to determine that public schools are bad. There is way too much more going on here. Companies are getting rich by designing tests and then designing the study guides to help students achieve proficiency. That is not improving education; that is narrowing the curriculum. People with no background in education are influencing not only what students learn but how they are assessed.

I can’t help but believe that the whole convoluted mess is intentionally driving out public education in favor of for profit schools. When you see governments conspiring with lobbyists and billionaires to determine the standards for learning you have to wonder if the standards are set so that students fail. When students fail, schools fail and when public schools fail, charter and for profits are able to flourish.

There is plenty of evidence today that the America that we knew 20 years ago is gone. Everything deemed valuable must be made better through competition and profiteering. The rich will continue to get rich on the backs of the poor. In the case of standardized testing maybe the rich realize the poor have nothing more to give so they are going after their state subsidies. Assure that the poor schools fail – pretty easy because economic background seems to be the most significant indicator of test performance – and then take the money that the state would give to some run down city school and bring the poor kid to a charter.

PSSA is our example here in Pennsylvania but every state has one. Some of them more draconian than others. From the beginning, every state knew that it would not be possible to have 100% of the students be proficient by 2014. Now 2014 is right around the corner and panic has set in. PDE has withdrawn the modified test for special education students assuring that the percentage of students making AYP will decrease. Don’t worry, the charters will take your special education students at a 100% mark up.

I apologize for being a defender of the PSSA. Now people must act.

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