Archive for the ‘GCAs’ Category

Learn More About the GCAs

Tredyffrin Easttown School Board has prepared a helpful video about the GCAs.  You can find the video at SchoolTube: http://www.schooltube.com/default.aspx?vid=5169 .

The Tredyffrin Easttown School Board also issued a  Resolution Opposing the Proposed High School Graduation Competency Assessments.  


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Currently the State of Pennsylvania is looking to increase high school graduation requirements. Information found on this web-site will give parents and concerned citizens in-depth information about the State’s plans. 

Problems with the State’s plans include but are not limited to:

  • Increased Stress on our students as ten new GCA (Graduate Competency Assessment) exams are added to an already heavy high-stakes testing load including PSSAs, PSATs, SATS, AP exams, mid-term and final exams.  The ten new assessments will test proficiency in the following subjects: English 9, English 10, US History, US Government, World History, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Biology, Chemistry. Students would have to pass five out of the ten exams in order to graduate.
  •  Increased class time focused on preparing for the GCAs rather than on course content. 
  • Loss of Local Control over alternative ways to measure student proficiency.  
  • Failure to Address Alternative Learning Styles.
  • Cost: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette estimates that the cost of implementation could exceed $100 million  

The Tredyffrin-Easttown School District opposes the proposed changes– as does the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA), the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA), and the Pennyslvania PTA. Please read their statements to learn about about the problems with the proposed regulations and the negative impact the GCA tests will have on our children.   

The State Board of Education unanimously approved the proposed GCAs. The proposal is now in the regulatory process, which includes reviews by the governor, the attorney general, the House Education Committee, and the Senate Education Committee. There will be an opportunity for public comment during the regulatory process.

It is critical that this information get out to the voting public and soon! Please share the information on this website with your neighbors and friends. 

Most importantly, take action. Help us raise awareness about the GCAs by sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. And let your elected officials know that you oppose the proposed requirements. Click here to send a letter to the editor or to contact your elected officials.     

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Tredyffrin-Easttown School District was invited to testify before the PA State Board of Education. Richard Gusick made the following statement on January 9, 2008 on behalf of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District:  

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.  My name is Richard Gusick and I represent the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District in Chester County, in an area that encompasses Valley Forge National Park and where our high school is known as Conestoga.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is receiving updates on former Conestoga High School students.  I am always excited to learn about who has graduated from what quality universities and who has accepted employment with high quality organizations.  Many are professionals.  Some work in the arts and sciences.  Occasionally our graduates earn fame in the entertainment industry.  Their interests are varied and their goals are lofty.  Our graduates are hard-working, focused, optimistic about the future.  I mention these alumni today because I believe that if the proposed Chapter 4 regulations are passed, some may not have earned high school diplomas.  Although all of our graduates are proficient in math and reading, they do not all demonstrate this on the 11th grade PSSA.  There are dozens of students like them at Conestoga each year, and thousands like them across the state.

The proposed regulatory changes present threats to our students in several categories:  First, the proposal does not contain enough flexibility to meet the needs of diverse learners.  We request that options be created that allow students to demonstrate proficiency through means other than high-stakes standardized tests.  Second, the additional tests will increase stress on students, who already struggle under a formidable exam load.  We request that no additional testing be added to their obligations.  Third, the proposals continue to threaten Pennsylvania’s tradition of local control of curriculum, instruction, and assessment and establish yet another unfunded mandate.  We request that Districts be permitted to continue to use local proficiency assessments without state-ordered review unless large discrepancies between these local assessments and standardized assessments are discovered.

Meeting the needs of diverse learners.   From kindergarten through twelfth grade, our students demonstrate proficiency on state standards through many assessment methods other than traditional standardized testing.  85% or more of our students have scored proficient or advanced each year over the past five years on the 11th grade reading and math PSSA tests.  The remaining students have demonstrated proficiency in settings that do not reflect the high stakes testing environment prescribed by the proposal.  These students have different learning styles and needs that create a need for alternative assessment of their skills. 

 In the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, students who have not scored proficient on the PSSA have shown understanding of state standards through a variety of hands-on demonstrations, portfolios, and oral presentations.  Non-proficient students are instructed in small, low-stress settings that provide opportunities for reflection and growth.  These methods are supported by research to be appropriate for students with different learning styles and needs.  Using a myriad of these strategies, our teachers are able to determine proficiency levels that may not be accurately reflected on an impersonal exam.  We do not, in the words of Secretary Zahorchak, “pull students through” using an “anything goes” approach.   

The restriction of the local proficiency assessment option is likely to label students basic or below basic who are in fact proficient.  None of the methods included in the proposed changes assess students in nontraditional ways.  They may look different, but they are all the same.  They are variations on one theme – high stakes standardized tests. Options must be created to meet the needs of diverse learners.  Our local proficiency assessment has filled that need. 

A review of our high school graduates reveals a high level of postgraduate success from students who scored below proficient on the PSSA.  Conestoga graduates have gained acceptance and experienced success at many fine colleges and universities.  A sampling of such Pennsylvania schools includes Dickinson, Drexel, Muhlenberg, Temple, Pittsburgh and Penn State.  Other students who were not proficient on the 11th grade PSSA have attended out of state universities such as Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rutgers, Southern California, and Virginia Tech.   

Admission to and success at many quality colleges and universities is a further testament to validity of our local assessments.  Again, these students were proficient.  They simply did not demonstrate that proficiency in the high-stakes testing environment.  It is very possible, given the timing of providing of PSSA and proposed GCA results, that a student who has already been granted acceptance to a quality college may learn that he or she will be ineligible to receive a high school diploma.  We will then be in the position of denying deserving students the right to pursue higher education and professional careers.  The Chapter 4 proposal will place in jeopardy the graduation of 40 to 70 proficient T/E students every year.  Even one student is too many to suffer this injustice.  We request that assessment options that meet the needs of diverse learners and enable proficiency to be demonstrated in a variety of ways be included in Chapter 4 regulations. 

Increasing student stress.  The addition of the GCA battery imposes an unreasonable load of high stakes testing on students who are already facing an undue burden. A typical Conestoga junior takes many high-stakes exams.  Eight or more days are needed to accommodate existing PSSA testing.   None of this testing contributes to the greatest goal for our students – college acceptance.  Approximately 95% of our students attend two- and four-year colleges after graduation.  Accordingly, 100% of Conestoga juniors take the PSAT in the fall and the SAT in the spring.  Many colleges require the SAT subject tests, which are administered on different days.  Most students take one or more Advanced Placement tests.  Some students choose the ACT test for college admissions.  All these admissions tests are necessary steps toward securing a seat at a desired college or university and become the primary focus for our students. 

Additionally, juniors take midterm and final examinations in five subject areas.  A typical junior experiences 18 days of high stakes testing, with many students participating in even more.  GCAs simply add to this load. 

These tests are more or less fixed.  Our students will continue to sit for all necessary college admissions examinations.  The PSSAs will continue to be the required Adequate Yearly Progress measurement. The proposed regulations may in fact compromise our ability to make AYP.  Any student who has already passed GCAs by the junior year will have little incentive to perform well on the PSSA tests, making the PSSA a less valid indicator of school effectiveness.   

Our teachers use midterm and final examinations to inform curricular and instructional decisions.  They also provide opportunities for students to be measured on skills that exceed the Pennsylvania standards.  They include alternative forms of assessment to meet the needs of diverse learners.  The introduction of GCAs, coupled with the heavy test burden, will force us to reconsider using this invaluable tool.  We request that no additional required standardized testing be added to an already stressful load. 

Threatening local control.  The Tredyffrin/Easttown School District provides students with skills that meet state standards.  However, students need skills that transcend proficiency to be successful in the modern workplace.  Toward that end, our District, in accordance with our strategic plan and Middle States Accreditation for Growth goals, currently has initiatives in place to foster critical thinking, creative thinking, information literacy, civic engagement, and self-directed learning.  None of these skills are measured by GCAs or PSSAs, yet many employers have identified them as essential workplace competencies.  As the state compels increased attention to baseline mastery, each of these initiatives is compromised for all students. 

The introduction of GCAs amounts to a state-controlled curriculum.  Because of a school’s desire to prepare students for high-stakes exams, these exams will necessarily drive a school’s scope and sequence of courses.  For example, many curricular models can be used to teach the world history standards.  Schools may approach the standards chronologically and may take different approaches to what standards are addressed in different school years.  Other schools may take a regional approach, focusing on each geopolitical area of the world in depth over the course of one or more school years.  A single, standardized GCA in World History will narrow these choices to one.  Our curriculum is regularly reviewed by teachers and administrators with input from students, parents and community members.  We have made decisions that reflect our local needs.  These needs will be compromised as additional statewide measures are introduced.  We request that no assessments be introduced that threaten this local control.   

The current proposals maintain a local proficiency assessment in words but not in spirit.  The development of test bank items, correlation studies, significance tests, annual updates, and related costs to independent vendors require the level of financial resources found only in state and federal agencies and large institutions such as the College Board.  This is an unfunded mandate.  The local proficiency assessment option is disingenuous because no District will be able to meet those criteria.  We request that Districts currently demonstrating a disparity between PSSA proficiency rate and local proficiency rate of 25% or lower be able to continue to use local assessments without the untenable financial burdens of vendor approval detailed in the proposed regulatory changes.   

The students of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District experience a robust curriculum that prepares them for college and beyond.  With high levels of students already demonstrating proficiency on the 11th grade PSSA test and with alternatives in place for the remaining students to show mastery, our schools have the flexibility to individualize programming and assessments as needed and to push our students toward higher standards.  The proposed regulations will also increase the existing formidable test burden and stress levels of our students who are already assessed in high stakes environments 18 or more days during the junior year.  Finally, the proposal will threaten local control of curriculum, instruction, and assessment and encumber our teachers’ ability to teach skills vital for individual, state, and national success in the 21st century.

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