Despite what "Practical Tests" (April 14 letters) argues, the PSSAs are nothing to "lighten up" about. Depending on how a district preps for and administers them, the PSSAs can take months, not a week, to complete. Furthermore, the PSSAs determine a school's Adequate Yearly Progress: how much funding it receives and, potentially, whether its staff will be retained. The pressure districts feel from these tests is enormous. This pressure is transferred directly to the students.
The worry parents, teachers, administrators and students have about the PSSAs is the radical shift in school atmosphere they have ushered in across the state. Ironically, those opting out of the PSSAs would likely agree with letter writer Peg Bittner's assessment of the current state of education with respect to the "simple questions" she poses. However, if she is truly concerned that our children possess basic know-how and expects schools to teach and reinforce this, then Ms. Bittner too should be critical of the PSSAs, which detract from traditional curricula.
In modern education, it's the test that counts, and contrary to Ms. Bittner's claim, PSSA scores are a part of a child's permanent record. In Mt. Lebanon, a child cannot graduate unless he or she has "passed" the PSSA. As Pennsylvania transitions from the PSSAs to the Keystone Exams, this will be a statewide policy.
In the end, I sympathize with Ms. Bittner. The intent of the PSSAs is accountability, which is certainly important, but if high-stakes tests become the measure of academic achievement in Pennsylvania, then teaching and learning will be reduced to filling in a bubble sheet. There is no real-world application for this skill.
The writer is a teacher.