Assessment

Pa. May Add State Test Scores to Transcripts

By Sean Cavanagh — May 29, 2002 3 min read
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The grades and course titles on high school transcripts offer a quick history of a graduating senior’s four-year record of accomplishment and disappointment. Now, Pennsylvania’s top education leaders want to add another chapter to that history.

The state board of education has voted to require schools to place high school students’ scores from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment on high school transcripts. Board members contend that displaying the results where employers and college-admissions officers could see them would help encourage students to take the tests seriously.

Next, the plan must be approved by the state House and Senate education committees, which observers said is likely.

“We’re trying to say that just walking into the classroom and not paying attention to the PSSA is not acceptable,” said board member Luis A. Ramos. “It’s about more than just filling in the last dot and turning the last page.”

All students in Pennsylvania are required to take the PSSA. They are tested in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades in mathematics and reading, and in 6th, 9th, and 11th grades in writing. Only the 11th grade test results would be put on the transcripts, starting in the 2004-05 school year, said Beth Gaydos, a spokeswoman for the state department of education, which supports the initiative.

“Accountability, at the end of the day, requires consequences,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Charles B. Zogby. “That means an understanding for students that their performance has to be taken seriously.”

Pennsylvania would become one of about a dozen states to list some form of standardized-test results on high school transcripts, according to the Education Commission of the States, a national organization in Denver that tracks state policy.

But the state board’s May 16 decision did not come without controversy. In making its decision, the board reversed a vote taken one day earlier by one of its own committees. That committee, the Council of Basic Education, had voted to remove the mandate to place test scores on transcripts.

The committee had heard objections about the transcript proposal from civil rights advocates and others, who complained that displaying the scores would punish students from schools in low-income areas.

“We feel that student performance should be measured by grades and other measures of classroom performance,” said Paula Diane Harris, the president of the greater Harrisburg, Pa., branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Another Twist

The Pennsylvania board’s decision also came despite a highly critical study of the state’s method of ranking standardized-test scores.

Released in March by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, the report said the education department’s methodology for ranking students as high- or low-scoring pushed far too many students into the lower categories. Many of those students who scored poorly would have scored well on comparable national tests, the report contended.

“State tests are here to stay—it’s not a question of opposing them,” said Wythe H. Keever, a spokesman for the state teachers’ union. “It’s a question of honesty and integrity.”

Department officials, however, have strongly disputed those findings, saying the state’s test standards were high, but realistic. They also have noted that hundreds of teachers participated in setting the exam’s categories.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association also fought the addition of test scores to transcripts. At least 80 of the 500 school boards represented by the organization passed resolutions opposing the decision, said Tim M. Allwein, a spokesman for the association.

As of last week, no model had been developed for how the test scores would appear on the transcripts, Ms. Gaydos said.

In a separate decision, the state board agreed to reward students who scored well on the PSSA tests by giving them special certificates at graduation. Originally, high school graduates who scored well on the math, reading, and writing sections of the test would have received a special seal on their diplomas, under regulations approved by the board in 1999.

The Council of Basic Education on May 15 recommended doing away with the seals, in favor of certificates.

Both proposals—for adding scores to transcripts and handing out certificates with diplomas—still must win the approval of education committees of the House and Senate in the legislature.

A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week as Pa. May Add State Test Scores to Transcripts

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