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Five Things You Didn't Know About Pennsylvania's PSSA State Assessments

Posted by David Moadel

Jun 20, 2015 2:48:00 PM


Educational standards matter to students, parents, educators, and the nation as a whole. They also matters to the individual states, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education has shown a long-standing commitment to high standards for all of its K-12 public school students. 

Joining the group of states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010 was thus a natural move for Pennsylvania, but doing this created a need for testing that would align to these challenging new academic expectations.

Rather than start from scratch, the state adapted a series of exams that were already in place: the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), which dates back to the earliest years of the millennium as a response to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). 

Over the years, the PSSA has developed into a progressively tougher criterion-referenced battery of assessments aimed at measuring student academic proficiency. With a longer history than many statewide standardized tests, the PSSA serves as a fascinating subject of study as we explore five things you might not know about these assessments.

1. By Pennsylvanians, for Pennsylvanians.   

Few standardized assessments are as fully intra-state as the PSSA. Educators throughout the state of Pennsylvania, including local teachers, selected the areas of knowledge to be covered in the exams. Furthermore, test items were edited, reviewed, and approved by educators within the state.

2. Not just multiple-choice anymore.  

With NCLB, and even more so with the CCSS, came stronger and deeper learning expectations, and the PSSA has met these expectations early and often.  That's why students will see, in addition to multiple-choice questions, a variety of item types, including selected-response, constructed-response, and open-ended items, as well as a mix of short-response questions and longer text-dependent analysis questions.

3. Getting serious about science.  

Sure, the PSSA assessments measure student proficiency in language arts and math, but what about science?  For students in Pennsylvania, scientific knowledge is a must, as the PSSA includes test items in four major categories:  "The Nature of Science, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Earth and Space Sciences." 

Also included are "science scenarios," or interpretive questions requiring test takers to "describe the results of a class project, an experiment, or other similar research." 

4. Computer-based assessment as well as traditional.  


Currently the PSSA is not fully online, and can be found in both digital and pencil-and-paper formats.  As a result, depending on the testing site, students may be exposed to such unimaginably old-school items as calculators (real ones with buttons and batteries) and scratch paper.


5. Computer-based item types.

New computer assessments will be using new computer-based, or technology enhanced, item types. These items avoid multiple choice by allowing students to use drag-and-drop, fill-in-the-blank, drawing with their mouse, and other approaches.

Check out LearnBop’s brand new Technology Enhanced Items (TEI) to see what new computer-based item types will look like. Teachers can use these new items right now for free!



We hope this list was informative, and that you learned something you didn't know before. We'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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About the Author


David Moadel is in his third decade working in education.  He has taught, mentored, and inspired students from elementary age through adult.  David has earned his master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the American College of Education, and is currently a certified teacher in Florida.  David enjoys teaching, writing, and utilizing technology tools to communicate with people with diverse viewpoints across the globe.


Topics: Implementing the Common Core, Resources, State News

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