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No answers yet on standardized testing

Uncertainty remains over state standardized testing in the spring of 2021 following a letter earlier this month from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to school districts.

Dated Feb. 12, Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Matthew S. Stem said the state would be heading down one of two paths in the coming weeks.

“If the U.S. Department of Education requires states to move forward with assessment administration, PDE will quickly issue guidance that balances, to the greatest extent possible, the complexities of statewide testing during the pandemic and safety considerations for students, staff and families,” Stem said.

If Pennsylvania moves forward with spring testing, the testing windows would be April 19-May 28 for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, March 8-May 7 for the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment, and May 17-June 25 for Keystone Exams.

“Within these windows, schools would not be required to test all students in a cohort at one time,” Stem said. “Schools could test smaller groups for the sake of social distancing, thorough cleaning and other prescribed safety protocols. Any school that remains in a remote or hybrid learning situation in March, and cannot safely provide face-to-face Keystone exams during the extended winter Keystone window, would plan to test those students during the spring window.”

If, however, the U.S. Department of Education changes direction and invites state waivers from school year 2020-21 assessment administration, Stem said PDE will carefully consider such an option.

“(PDE) will likely quickly survey local education agency leadership to gather data that could inform such a waiver request,” Stem said. “We are not requesting this information now because it is unclear what requirements USDE would include in a waiver process, should one become available.”

Keystone exams are normally held at the end of the semester in the winter and spring and many districts have already administered the winter round of testing.

Senate Bill 1216, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in November, delayed using the exams as a graduation requirement until the 2022-23 school year.

Pennsylvania canceled PSSA, PASA and Keystone testing in 2019-20 after schools across the state were closed due to the pandemic.

“We remain committed to sharing all that we know, even when that information is limited,” Stem wrote. “We continue to monitor developments every day, and will do our best to communicate a definitive path forward by the end of February.”