2011-10-06 / Local & State

Pa. Students’ Test Scores Jump In All Categories

By Marc Levy

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Students who took the state's standardized tests in the spring delivered improved scores in math, science, writing and reading tests over last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education said Thursday.

The percentage of students who tested as advanced or proficient increased in all four categories on the state-administered standardized tests, called the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, the department said.

“It’s always good to see the scores go up in the PSSA and we should applaud the fact that our students are making progress,” said state Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis.

Gains since 2010 on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests were typically a percentage point or two. In 2011, 77.1 percent of students tested in math scored at proficient or advanced levels, along with 73.5 percent in reading, 75 percent in writing and 60.9 percent in science.

However, not every grade level showed improvement. For instance, eighth-grade reading performance and third-grade math scores dropped, Tomalis said.

Certain subgroups also dropped, including English language learners on reading tests, he said.

The tests were administered after years of increasing state spending on public schools but before lawmakers cut about $900 million, or more than 10 percent, from public school aid in the current school year.

“While it's good to see more students reaching proficiency, the concern is that cuts to education funding could stall that progress,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. “State leaders have to stay committed to investing in programs that get results, like full-day kindergarten, or we risk wiping out the gains our kids are making.”

However, Tomalis said improvement in test scores haven't been proportional to the rate of increase in education spending, and he argued that how the money is spent is at least as important as how much is spent.

“It's becoming pretty obvious that the most important thing that affects student achievement ... is the quality of the teacher in the classroom, more than the dollars,” Tomalis said.

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