PSSA Madness Outbreak Hits Home
Literally, overnight the conversation at the local lunch counter changed from offering opinon on
Casey Anthony's murder acquittal and release from jail to offering opinion on various ways to hang
Release late last week of a 2009 state education report states that ''possible'' school cheating
on the PSSA tests in the Connellsville and Uniontown school districts may have occurred. On the
other hand, the report also states that ''the scores could have been obtained fairly."
Yet the report that sat collecting dust for two years offers no real conclusions, except that
there were a lot of erase marks and that the percentage of those students who passed the PSSA
was higher than expected.
Obviously, just whoever compiled the state report, joined by the gifted minds at the lunch
counter. Oh, yes, and at least one or two who post wrong information as actual fact on such
community discussion forums as faywest.com.
Truth be told, the release of the report last week now launched a formal investigation, with
results not due for a month. In the meantime, the gifted omnicient at the counter run their
mouths and list bogus Pittsburgh news reports that simply do not exist that state cheating
definitely happened here.
Granted, seasoned teachers make too much money, don't pay enough of their health care benefits
and some power-happy school board directors always get their guy or gal hired -- and will continue
to do so, until teachers are hired from a type of testing and pool of candidates similar to civil
service or elected school boards disappear from existence.
However, these are not valid reasons to want to crucify individual teachers and not give them or
their students the benefit of the doubt in the matter of the PSSA performance results until the
investigation is complete.
Given that the state has redesigned curriculum to devote much of repetitive learning to cram for
the PSSA and taken away much of individual teachers' free-form ability to teach as we adults
were once taught, who's to say that all that repetitive test preparation teaching did not help
improve the scores? And who's to say that teachers didn't work harder to make sure their
students were learning since their jobs are outcome and performace-based these days? Or that
parents worked harder at home to help their kids achieve more? Or that students applied
themselves more with so much emphasis on the test?
Ms. P. was an awesome principal at my son's school when he transferred to this district five years
ago. She's a no-nonsense kind of young woman, who welcomed my son with autism into her regular
education classes and made second grade work for him. I was very sad to see her transferred the
next school year down the road because she ran a school well and could jump in a flash on a bus and
separate a second and sixth grader fighting before it came to blows.
The school that she went to is one named in the story where ''possible'' PSSA cheating may have
occurred. Should cheating at that school be confirmed in a month, I will be royally shocked.
Nonetheless, there's a possibility, as the state report indicated.
But ask the omnicient minds at the lunch counter just why in God's name would an intelligent
principal erase answers and still end up flunking the PSSA test for the year, and there's no reply.
Isn't it a no brainer? Ask the wise all knowing why a teacher or principal would cheat and not erase
yet more incorrect answers to pass and the onmicient evade the issue, to go off on angry tangents
about the average salaries and benefits package being too much.
While some opinion is that the former governor withheld the report because he got campaign
dollars from the teachers' union till he was out of office might be accurate. Or could it be that
the state realized in 2009 that there wasn't much evidence that cheating really happened then
and left the report collecting dust -- until, possibly, someone with interests in consolidating
districts made it magically appear in the news before school districts even knew it existed?
Again, that's all speculation and nobody knows for sure. Just as nobody today knows for certain
whether any cheating actually happened at all at the Connellsville or Uniontown schools. But plenty
want to hang the teachers and administrators on the mere possibility and jump on the band wagon
for regional consolidation anyway, just because teachers make more money than we want to pay
them. The issues are separate and should not blurr together.
I'll withhold judgment until the investigation into possible PSSA cheating is completed. In the
meantime, I'll hold the thought that the young woman I respect did not lose professional integrity
since our paths last crossed and is smart enough not to have cheated at all.
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