The major educational initiatives that were launched this year underscore Gov. Tom Wolf’s commitment to a more holistic approach for evaluating student and school success. This approach relies less on test scores and focuses more on developing the skills students need to be college-, career-, and community-ready. As 2018 draws to a close, the state Department of Education thanks students and their parents, public officials, school administrators, and the commonwealth’s dedicated educators for helping us as we chart a new course in education policy.
Parents and teachers across the commonwealth have made it clear that there is too much standardized testing. In response, testing time was reduced this spring for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) for students in third through eighth grades, providing more critical time for learning. Gov. Wolf also signed a law that updates high school graduation requirements, giving students several options beyond testing to demonstrate what they have learned and that they are ready to graduate from high school to start a career or continue their education.
Parents, educators, and communities said we need a better way to evaluate schools with a broader set of measurements. As part of the state plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the department launched the Future Ready PA Index, the Wolf administration’s new public-facing, one-stop location for comprehensive information and data on student and school success. Developed with input from thousands of stakeholders, the tool uses a dashboard approach to present school-level data and provide parents with a more comprehensive look at how schools are educating all students.
For students to succeed, the commonwealth must continue to increase and retain the number of qualified school leaders serving our public schools. This year, 73 superintendents and charter school directors graduated from the department’s innovative Superintendent’s Academy, a two-year professional development program. The second and third cohorts are currently involved.
Students must feel safe in school and parents confident that their children are protected. This year, Gov. Wolf created the Pennsylvania School Safety Task Force, of which I am a member. The task force released recommendations on how state, community, and school officials should work collaboratively with each other and students and families to use all the tools at their disposal to prevent school-based violence. In addition, the state is investing $60 million to help communities protect students and secure schools.
Over the next decade, seven in 10 new jobs in Pennsylvania will require workers to use a computer. In November, Gov. Wolf launched the next phase of his PAsmart initiative, providing $20 million to increase access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and computer science education, with an emphasis on girls, minorities, and other underserved students. Pennsylvania now ranks second in the country for investments in K-12 STEM and computer science.
Earlier this month, the department unveiled Pennsylvania’s new school improvement strategy, which designates schools in need of more support. The schools will receive a variety of supports tailored to their unique needs. Ultimately, this extra support will create a more successful learning environment for students.
Through these initiatives, Pennsylvania is building a broader, fairer, and more meaningful portrait of school and student progress and success, and we’re honoring our state’s equity commitments by helping to ensure that every student in the commonwealth gets the education he or she needs to be successful.
Pedro Rivera is Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education.