WEST CHESTER (September 29, 2020) – The Senate Education Committee recently passed two bills designed to address the potential limitations of remote or online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, state Senator Andy Dinniman said.

Senate Bills 1251 and 1252, introduced by Dinniman, the committee’s minority chair, and co-sponsored by the majority chair, Senator Wayne Langerholc were both overwhelmingly approved on September 22. They will now go to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Senate Bill 1251 called for establishing an Assessment Testing Select Committee to study and make findings and recommendations regarding the requirement for and administration of federal testing requirements, such as the Keystones and the PSSAs, this year.

Annual testing is mandated by the federal government. Last year, due to the pandemic, Pennsylvania canceled those tests by receiving a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. This year, the U.S. Department of Education has informed states not to expect the same waiver process. However, a number of states have already submitted waivers, Dinniman said he hoped that U.S. Dept of Education would reconsider its view based on these requests.

Dinniman said that such testing would be unfair and inaccurate since students being taught by various instructional models, including in-class, hybrid, and remote/online.

“These different instructional models have different degrees of success in reaching different students. Continuing with these standardized tests this year just doesn’t make sense and is a waste of time,” he said. “Hopefully, the committee will help take a closer look at the difficulty of testing in the current environment and move forward with canceling or scaling back as much of it as possible.”

Senate Bill 1252 calls for the creation of a statewide retired volunteer educator tutoring program to assist students struggling with hybrid or online/remote learning. Under the program, students who are facing challenges with online or hybrid learning, as identified by their instructor, may be offered additional, one-on-one online or telephone tutoring and support from a retired teacher who offers their service free of charge.

Dinniman said that he has worked with the Chester County Intermediate Unit to launch such a program. Under the bill, as the need for virtual education increases as a result of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and intermediate units will assist in evaluating and sharing the impact of these tutoring programs, as well as investigating methods to provide wrap-around services and guidance virtually.

“Online or remote learning isn’t an effective instructional model for every student and every family,” Dinniman said. “Some of the challenges facing our students and young people include a lack of adequate broadband connectivity, difficulty staying focused due to distractions at home, and the lack of parental involvement, supervision, or technical knowledge due to social-economic conditions or their own career schedules.”

Dinniman said he is also pursuing additional legislative measures to support learning during the pandemic, including:

  • Instructional programs to assist parents in becoming “teacher-coaches.”
  • Acquisition of app-based software to translate online curriculum to non-English language learners.
  • Having PDE or local intermediate units assist school districts in integrating an age-appropriate understanding of the pandemic into their curriculum.

“Of course, it is essential to get students back to in-class learning as soon as possible before they fall further behind and we must continue to support school districts as they begin to safely move in that direction,” he said. “One of the ways we can do so is ensuring that all schools, both public and nonpublic, have nurses in the building when students are present.”

Dinniman has introduced Senate Bill 1332 to ensure that every school with students in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic has a school nurse on-site during that time.