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09/08/2015

Pennsylvania’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Waiver Receives Federal Approval

Harrisburg, PA - Governor Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has approved Pennsylvania’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver which allows for a one-year pause in the use of the state’s School Performance Profile (SPP). Governor Wolf and Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera had requested the waiver in using the 2015 PSSA scores to calculate SPP and teacher effectiveness ratings due to sweeping changes to the assessment that took effect in the 2014-15 school year.

"Fixing our schools is my top priority, and part of improvement is having fair and consistent accountability standards,” Governor Wolf said “We must prepare students to be college and career ready in the 21st century, and we need accountability measures that ensure we are on track to do so, but we cannot over burden our students and teachers with measures that do not fairly account for performance or improvement.”

The SPP is a significant part of Pennsylvania’s obligations under the federal accountability system established by the ESEA. The SPP was first used in the 2012-13 academic year to provide students, families, school districts, and the general public with information to review the performance of Pennsylvania schools using a common measure. The SPP relies heavily on student scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), measuring both achievement and growth. The PSSA, administered in grades 3 through 8 in English Language Arts and math, was fully-aligned to the more rigorous PA Core Standards for the first time in 2015, and the results on the most recent assessment cannot fairly be compared to those in previous years.

The waiver means schools that administer Keystone Exams will continue to receive SPP scores. That means the only schools that administered PSSAs in 2015 that will have SPP scores will be those that also administered Keystone Exams. The Keystone Exams will be the only test used to help establish the SPP scores.

The 2015 PSSA was a brand new assessment, aligned for the first time to the new and more rigorous PA Core Standards, adopted by the State Board of Education in 2013. Performance level scores for the new 2015 PSSAs, adopted by the State Board in July, resulted in significant drops in student performance across the state.

“While it is critically important to hold our schools and educators accountable for student success, we must take care to do so with indicators that are fair and accurate,” said Secretary Rivera. “This year’s PSSA scores establish the new baseline from which we can most effectively measure student progress in future years.”

In the absence of SPP scores this year for most schools with grades kindergarten through 8, PSSA achievement scores will not be part of the evaluations of teachers and principals in these schools. Evaluations will continue to include student growth scores.

Secretary Rivera also noted that the pause in use of the SPP is part of a broader discussion regarding potential revisions to the SPP. Governor Wolf has directed PDE to consider how the tool could be adjusted to be a more comprehensive measure of school and student performance beyond single, high-stakes test performance.

In its approval of the one-year waiver, USDE noted the progress Pennsylvania has made toward improving students’ college and career readiness.

According to a press release, USDE said, “The state is taking important steps toward ensuring that every child has the opportunity they deserve but needs more time to make adjustments to its flexibility plans in order to fully meet its commitments. To that end, the state is receiving a one-year renewal while it continues finalizing its plans for the future.”

“Successfully measuring school performance is an important part of ensuring our students are prepared for the future,” said Secretary Rivera. “With a new PSSA baseline in place, we can ensure the SPP is an accurate, useful tool that helps educators, administrators, community members, and leaders evaluate schools’ progress and performance for years to come.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Reigelman - 717-783-9802

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