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Some Heads Shake As Pennsylvania Education Overhaul Is Approved

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
The new Future Ready PA Index will change how officials track student success.

Now that US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved Pennsylvania’s 13-year education-improvement plan, state officials are working on rolling out some changes.

The updated plan is designed to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the Obama-era Every Student Succeeds Act. It’s the commonwealth’s first comprehensive update since 2002.

One key change? Broadening how school success is measured.

A new system dubbed the Future Ready PA Index is being released in the fall, and will track things like career readiness, along with existing criteria like test scores.

Critics, including state lawmakers and an independent panel of education policy experts, have complained the new measures are too vague—as are the plan’s procedures for holding schools accountable to their improvement goals.

Matt Stem, a Deputy Secretary with the Education Department, acknowledged the index is certainly loose in certain areas.

But he maintained, it’s supposed to be that way.

“If a system is designed that’s overly rigid, invariably you run into unintended consequences,” he said. “We want to design a system that affords us the ability to flexibly meet the needs of each school and community.” 

The plan also makes state tests an average of 20 percent shorter in third through eighth grades.

It still uses the Keystone Exams as the federal assessment for high school students. That’s something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been trying to change, arguing that it is expensive and time-consuming to administer, and a standard test like the SAT or ACT would be a better option.

Stem said those tests wouldn’t necessarily square with state standards, and that review is necessary. 

WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.