State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis' conclusion that cheating caused the drop in PSSA test scores across the commonwealth is both puzzling and disappointing ("Pa. Districts Show Steep Drop in Test Scores," Sept. 22). It's a classic case of blaming the victim and ignoring that the test-score drop coincided with the funding cuts and other attacks on public education championed by the Corbett administration. Let's look at the facts.
Fact 1: Pennsylvania schools have lost more than $1 billion in funding over the past two years as a result of state funding cuts. Some of that funding loss has been in assessments designed to monitor student progress over time. For example, as president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, I hear our members complain repeatedly about the discontinuation of 4-Sight Tests. Due solely to budget cuts, teachers lost a key formative tool that focused on skills needed to differentiate and drive instruction to move students toward mastery of skills tested through eligible content on the PSSA tests.
Fact 2: In Pittsburgh alone, 250 positions in central office were cut or went unfilled during the 2011-2012 school year. Last October, it was announced that more than 400 school-based positions would be cut and that seven schools would be closed. Across the state, it is estimated that 14,000 teaching positions have been lost. These cuts have a very real effect on teaching and learning. It is disingenuous not to acknowledge that effect.
Fact 3: Most educators believe that heightened test security was responsible for the test-score drops. Many children, especially younger ones, are sensitive to changes in the testing environment -- particularly when their own teacher is not permitted to administer the test.
Fact 4: There are 500 school districts in Pennsylvania. Only 48 -- fewer than 10 percent -- were investigated for testing irregularities. Of those 48 districts, 30 have been cleared. It simply does not make sense that "cheating" can explain all or even a significant portion of the test score drop.
If there is any cheating going on, it is among policymakers who cheat a generation of public school students by not providing them the resources they need to succeed.
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers