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All Pa. school standardized tests, including PSSAs, to move online by 2026

A girl at a computer.
Tony Dejak
Pennsylvania's 14 cyber charters receive public funds to pay for students' tuition, with the money coming from school districts.

All Pennsylvania standardized tests — including the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams — will move online by 2026.

Speaking from Northgate High School, located just outside of Pittsburgh, Gov. Josh Shapiro said Thursday that the change will result in less overall time spent testing students, and more time dedicated to teaching.

“These changes will result in a reduction in the amount of time students need to spend on standardized testing by about 30 minutes per test,” Shapiro said. “That's a lot of time to be reclaimed.”

According to the governor, the switch will allow students taking tests in multiple subjects to save up to two hours each school year on average, as well as reduce the time teachers spend on testing-related administrative tasks, such as distributing, sorting and sending off exams to the state.

The decision is in line with a greater trend toward online-only testing in education. The College Board, which administers standardized college admissions exams, announced this past November that the SAT would be offered solely online. The New York State Education Department proposed a $21 million investment to support the transition to computer-based testing for grades 3-8 by 2026.

Shapiro did not mention any additional funding to support Pennsylvania’s rollout, but said districts with limited access to broadband internet or online technology will also be aided throughout the process. The state’s Department of Education will offer additional resources to smooth the transition, including webinars, trainings and a help desk.

According to a report last year from the National Rural Education Association, roughly 14% of the state’s rural students lack access to broadband internet. With roughly 250,000 rural students, researchers noted that Pennsylvania has the seventh-largest rural student enrollment in the United States.

“No student is going to be inhibited by this process or held behind by this process if they don't have the resources in their home or in their district,” Shapiro stressed.

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More than a third of the Commonwealth’s schools already administer state exams online, according to state officials.

According to Shapiro, the move is a step toward reducing the Commonwealth’s overall reliance on standardized tests — an increasingly controversial measure of student progress.

“I'd love to go a step further and get rid of these tests entirely,” Shapiro said, noting that federal law requires public schools to administer state exams in math and reading in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Shapiro said that the state would risk $600 million in federal funding if it declined to do so.

“But we are working with our federal partners to see what we can do to ease the requirements on states. And trust me, the moment that they provide some easing of those requirements, we will ease them as well here in Pennsylvania and help our students get out from underneath this burden,” Shapiro said.

The governor said that transitioning tests — while they remain in place — online will make them a more effective tool for the Commonwealth’s students.

He added that officials also plan to shift the focus of exams more toward interactive, “technology-enhanced” questions so that they better align with how students learn year-round.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.