Across Pennsylvania, students posted "modest gains" on standardized tests in 2016, Department of Education officials said Thursday.

State standards tightened in 2015, and the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) that year was a reset, officials said.

"The results of the 2016 assessment show student performance is trending in the right direction, but also that more needs to be done to help students who aren't yet achieving proficiency," Pedro A. Rivera, Pennsylvania's education secretary, said in a statement.

Proficiency rates rose in nearly every grade. Officials did not provide PSSA proficiency rates for all Pennsylvania test-takers, as they have in the past, but they did offer grade-by-grade breakdowns.

Overall, the youngest students generally scored the highest, with 54 percent of third graders proficient or advanced in math and 51 percent in English. By eighth grade, those numbers changed to 31 percent scoring at or above grade level in math and 59 percent in English.

PSSAs are administered annually to third through eighth graders. Keystone Exams are given to high school students.

The state, under Gov. Wolf, has placed less emphasis on the exams.

Test are "a helpful tool," Rivera said, but he and the governor "agree that Pennsylvania needs to consider options for a more comprehensive approach to measuring student achievement. There are many pathways to postgraduate success, and our measurement should reflect a broader array of those pathways."

Philadelphia School District officials said they were pleased with their results, which showed growth in Keystones and stable performance on the PSSAs.

Citywide, 55 percent of students passed the literature Keystones, up 6 points; 43 percent passed Algebra I exams, up 5 points; and 36 percent passed biology tests, up 7 points. But the district still lags the state considerably - in Pennsylvania as a whole, 68 percent of students were on grade level in algebra and 77 percent in math.

On the PSSA, students who met state standards for English held steady at 32 percent, and those who met state standards in math rose by 1 percentage point to 18 percent.

"These results show we are making progress as we continue to ensure all students are ready for a career or college," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a statement. "While PSSA scores are stable, there are multiple ways to measure our students' knowledge and mastery of skills, and our students continue to make gains."

Downingtown STEM Academy, which was the top school on the state's School Performance Profile in 2013 and 2014, was also the top scorer in all three Keystone subjects, Algebra I, biology, and language arts.

Principal Art Campbell said students take practice tests and teachers examine those results to tailor their instruction to the students' needs.

"We are very intentional with our examination of data and student performance," he said. The school opened in 2011.

In February, Wolf ordered a two-year hold on requiring high school students to pass the Keystone Exams to graduate. If it's not extended, current ninth and 10th graders will still have to take the test.

One of the highest performing schools in the English section of the test, Souderton Charter School Collective, scored 96 percent in combined proficient and advanced.

Jennifer Arevalo, director of education at the school, founded in 2000 and named a Blue Ribbon school in 2013, credits daily writing assignments in every subject area for their high scores.

"We're not teaching to the test," she said, referencing a common complaint that many educators and parents have about the PSSAs. "We're teaching the skills that are needed to be ready for a career in college."

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