Testing

In this file photo from 2012, Conestoga Valley students take benchmark tests  for the Keystone Exams.

The number of students opted out of state tests tripled in 2015, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

PSSA math opt-outs rose to 3,270 students from 1,064 in 2014. PSSA English language arts opt-outs rose to 3,245 from 1,068. Those are the largest jumps in the nine years of available data.


RELATED: PSSA math scores drop sharply in Lancaster County schools


(Note: in 2014, students in grades 3 through 8 took reading PSSAs, and students in grade 4 and 8 also took a writing test. Those components were combined in 2015.)

Keystone Exam opt-out numbers were not available.

 

Lancaster County numbers

School-level figures were not available from the state last week, but numbers reported by Lancaster County district administrators in April indicate that opt-outs here more than doubled for the third year in a row. There were 225 students opted out of math or language arts PSSAs.

And if Manheim Township has been the eye of a storm brewing over standardized tests in recent years, the hurricane winds are starting to spread.

The school district was home to some of the first Lancaster County parents to join the growing national opt out movement in 2013. But this year, other districts are catching up.

In 2014, opt outs in Manheim Township were more than double any other local district. This year, the district again had the highest number of 2015 opt-outs: 44 students.

But some districts came closer to those figures: Hempfield had 37 opt-outs, Penn Manor had 32 and Warwick had 25.

Warwick also saw the largest jump countywide — up from two opt-outs in 2014. School officials declined to comment on that spike when LNP contacted the district in May.

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Lampeter-Strasburg, a district that previously had no opt-outs, had the fifth-highest number among 17 districts this year: 19 students. In an email last May, Superintendent Kevin Peart said he was "a bit surprised" by the increase.

"We fully support parents' rights to opt their child out of the assessment, and did not have any further conversation after they submitted their request in writing. It would certainly be a concern if our opt-numbers negatively impacted our SPP results due to student participation rates, but that is not currently the case," he wrote.

The district totals all represent less than 2 percent of the districts' test-eligible populations. If the numbers reach 5 percent, they could negatively affect a school's score on the state's School Performance Profiles.

A parent's view

Lindsay Frank said her concerns about PSSAs started with the high level of stress her daughter, Lily, was showing in third grade. Lily, 9, was one of 10 Manheim Central students opted out of PSSAs this year.

"As I read more and learned more, it really concerned me that so much time is being devoted to this test prep," said Frank.

Students spend several weeks on PSSAs each spring, and most schools administer related tests throughout the year to track progress. Those are separate from lesson quizzes and unit tests.

After PSSAs finished in April, Frank said she saw a big change in her daughter's classroom, where she volunteered weekly. Students studied subjects other than math and language arts, and they went on several fields trips.

"(Lily) loves it. It's totally different, and I'd like to see them do that all year," Frank said in May.

"I think more parents would (opt out) if they knew what was happening and that the movement to opt out isn't against schools or teachers. It's in support of them. We don't need these tests to tell us we have good schools or good teachers."

Parents aren't the only ones registering their frustrations.

Last winter, a Lampeter-Strasburg teacher cited an increased emphasis on standardized tests in her resignation letter to the school board. In June, Cocalico teachers told their school board that they believed the focus on tests was harming students.


RELATED: LancasterOnline's complete coverage of standardized testing