© 2023 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

PA Students Must Take Standardized Tests This School Year, Says Federal Government

Scott Sonner
The U.S. Department of Education has said students must take standardized tests this year. Chris Lilienthal with the Pennsylvania State Education Association says the organization disagrees with the decision.

On today's program: The Pennsylvania State Education Association says it’s disappointed the U.S. Department of Education is not waiving annual assessments but appreciates flexibility from the state; PA Youth Congress, a youth LGBTQ advocacy organization, says there is an epidemic of violence against transgender people; and a researcher explains how HIV and COVID-19 have disproportionately affected people of color.  

Schools continue to struggle with standardized testing delays amidst pandemic

(0:00 — 6:17) 

The U.S. Department of Education decided against waiving standardized tests despite many teachers calling upon the Biden Administration to cancel them amidst the pandemic.  

Chris Lilienthal from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, says the union asked the state to cancel the testing requirement in January due to unusual learning environments students are still trying to adapt to. 

“We want to focus on what the students need, and we felt that taking several weeks out of the school year for standardized testing would cost students just too much classroom instructional time in a year when they’ve already lost too much time,” Lilienthal says. 

While schools were not granted a federal waiver for the tests, they were granted an extension period through September to complete the tests, something for which Lilienthal says the PSEA is grateful. The organization supports the idea of administering the tests in the summer or early fall, depending on whether it is safe to do so.

Many officials are concerned that measuring the impact of the pandemic on student’s learning outcomes will be difficult without standardized testing, but Lilenthal says such assessments aren’t the only way to measure learning outcomes. 

“Teachers know where their students have slipped, and I think that we need to trust them as the professionals that they are to be able to do their jobs well,” says Lilienthal.

The Pennsylvania Legislature also passed a bill earlier in the fall waiving the use of standardized test results for the 2020-2021 school year as a way to evaluate teachers.

Violence against transgender people is an ‘epidemic’
(6:22 — 13:34)

Chyna Carrillo was the first transgender person mudered in the state of Pennsylvania this year. 

Forty-four transgender people were killed in 2020, and so far, seven have been killed in 2021. However, Preston Heldibridle from PA Youth Congress says the true count is likely higher. 

“Many times these incidents go underreported because of the lack of a comprehensive ID system, perhaps the levels are higher but the police simply don’t know if the victims are transgender,” Heldibridle says. 

In many states across the country, it’s difficult or burdensome to legally change one’s gender. Many states also lack hate crime protections for the transgender community. In Pennsylvania, a Republican controlled state legislature passed a law in 2002 providing protections that were repealed in 2008 due to a technicality. 

“I think LGBT issues have been turned into partisan football. These are human rights issues.  These are peoples’ lives on the line, it needs to be treated as such,” Heldibridle says.

Heldibridle says protections against sexual orientation are not the only protections transgender people need. Transgender people of color are at even greater risk of discrimination, wealth and education inequities.

“While we desperately need LGBTQ specific protections against violence and discrimination, we also desperately need access to affordable housing, healthcare, education, and well paying jobs because that is what’s essential to creating safe communities.”

Representatives from the PA Youth Council were invited to the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy on Hate Crimes Protections  in October 2020 to testify for the first time to a Republican-led committee and discuss Senate Bill 44. The bill would expand hate crime protections, but it’s unclear when it will be up for discussion in the future. 

Heldibridle says in order for the problem to be addressed, the state needs to allocate more funding to resources like affordable housing and job opportunities, but members of the community can also help in other ways. 

“No one should ever be attacked for their identity, spreading that message and holding people accountable to that, a very reasonable norm, is what we need.  We need people to stand with us.” 

Lack of basic needs increases HIV and COVID-19 risk, especially for people of color
(13:41 — 18:00)

WESA’s Sarah Boden talks with Aishah Scott, a post-doctoral fellow in history at Carnegie Mellon University, about the correlation between housing insecurity and contracting diseases like HIV and COVID-19 for Black Americans. 

Scott says lack of access to care, unstable domestic relationships, and financial dependence are all factors in disease transmissibility.  While the viruses themselves are different, the factors leading to their transmissibility are strikingly similar.

“We talk about the disease but we don’t talk about the systemic issues that leave marginalized communities vulnerable, and we don’t talk about them with intention because it’s expensive to fix them.” 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
Subscribe to The Confluence podcast
Recent Episodes Of The Confluence
Load More