WEST CHESTER (March 11, 2020) – In response to the impacts of growing COVID-19 concerns and potential cases on school districts, state Senator Andy Dinniman announced today that he would introduce legislation to eliminate standardized testing and streamline necessary approvals to move to online learning.
“Given the rapid spread of this virus, we must rethink the systems we have in place to deal with meeting school day requirements, as they will be quickly overwhelmed in the event of extended closings,” Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “My aim to is free up our school districts from burdensome requirements and bureaucratic processes, so they can protect students, teachers, and staff, while continuing to educate students to the top of the curriculum. The time to act is now.”
Dinniman’s first bill allows school districts that have the capabilities in place to move ahead with online learning (rather than await approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)) in light of the March 11 World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a “pandemic” and Governor Wolf’s March 6 Disaster Emergency Proclamation.
It also calls for PDE to, within two weeks, put in place alternative plans for school districts that may not have online resources available and give school districts the freedom, as with online learning, to put programs into place for the school year.
“On a daily basis, I have been receiving calls from concerned school district officials, teachers and parents, asking for guidance. Currently, schools are doing their best to work within the law, but the reality is that many will likely need to close for longer than a day or two,” Dinniman said. “While the PDE has pledged to view school closures on a “case by case basis”, daily news reports lead me to believe those cases will be growing far too quickly for PDE staff to manage.”
“Local government is the best place for key local decisions to be made, especially regarding a rapid response to a pandemic event,” he added. “School districts that are ready to move forward with online learning should be allowed to do so. Those that lack these resources deserve to immediately receive from PDE alternative approaches which they have the freedom to implement.”
Dinniman’s second bill calls for the cancellation of the state PSSA and Keystone exams for this school year and requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to ask the federal government for a waiver of federal accountability regulations.
He said that cancellation of such standardized tests would address the following:
- Many of our schools may close for various periods of time. Because of this, students will be prepared with various levels of instruction, which means any comparative basis of school district scores will be questionable.
- With school time being limited in many schools as a result of closings, all school time should be devoted to subject instruction, not up to ten days of PSSA and Keystone testing.
- Keystone Exam results are not required for graduation. They are only used for federal accountability, which would more than likely be waived at the request of a state undergoing a serious health emergency.
- The bill calls for the millions of dollars saved from not testing to be put in a fund to assist school districts with the additional costs associated with extended closings.
- While online instruction is available in the wealthier school districts across the state, with each student receiving a laptop, this is not the case in all school districts.
- Since all students are required to take these exams, we are not currently prepared to provide an adequate testing situation for special education students, in addition to others who are required to have federally mandated accommodations.
- We have a significant number of students with serious health challenges including those who are immuno-compromised. They are at a higher risk for COVID-19.
- School districts will already have enough on their plate with potential extended closings. It is time to immediately remove standardized testing and allow them to focus on instruction.
“In the face of COVID-19, our focus should be on public health and ensuring that we have adequate and accurate tests for the virus itself, not on worrying about standardized tests or other bureaucratic procedures,” Dinniman said. “Let’s trust our local schools, teachers, and staff to do what needs to be done in dealing with an alarming and unprecedented event.”
The two bills are currently being drafted. Dinniman said he will urge the legislature to act them on swiftly when lawmakers return to sesson next week.