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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 18, 2020 10:38 AM
From: Senator Andrew E. Dinniman and Sen. Scott Martin
To: All Senate members
Subject: Coronavirus Disease and Schools: Increasing School Instructional Time
When there is a global health emergency, the old rules and traditional approaches to solving problems give way to a new reality. The truth is that the systems we have in place to deal with meeting school day requirements will be rapidly overwhelmed in the event of any extended school closings that may arise due to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) just won’t be able to respond quickly enough on a case-by-case basis.

And while all branches of government must work together, I want to remind my colleagues that the legislature has a special state constitutional obligation in terms of education. Unlike most other states, education is under the final authority of the legislature.

With that in mind, I am requesting your co-sponsorship of legislation that I am proposing to cancel the state PSSA and Keystone exams for the remainder of this school year and to require PDE to ask the federal government for a waiver of testing requirements.

I do so for the following reasons:

1. Many of our schools may close for various periods of time. In my area, this has already begun to happen. Because of this, students will be prepared with varying amounts of instructional time, which means that any comparison of school district scores will be at the very least questionable.
2. With school time being limited in many schools as a result of closings, all school time should be devoted to subject instruction, not up to ten days of PSSA and Keystone testing.
3. Keystone results are not required for graduation. They are only used for federal accountability, which most likely would be waived in the event of a national health crisis.
4. The millions of dollars saved in not testing would be put in a fund to assist school districts with any additional costs associated with extended closings.
5. While online instruction is available in the wealthier school districts across the state, with each student receiving a laptop, this is not the case in all school districts. This situation would add greater inequities to an already unfair situation for our poorer school districts and those rural districts without the same level of Internet access.
6. Since all students are required to take these exams, we are not currently prepared to provide an adequate testing situation for special education students, many who are required to have federally mandated accommodations. We are not prepared to do this on an immediate basis.
7. We have a significant number of students with serious health challenges including those who are immuno-compromised. They are at a higher risk than most to COVID-19.
8. School districts will already have enough on their plate with potential extended closings. It is time to immediately remove the PSSA and Keystone exams and allow them to focus on instruction.

Our most important goal here as legislators right now in terms of education is to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our students, teachers, administrators, and staff. Based on the recent news from what’s happening in Italy and New Rochelle, NY, we have a clear view of what may occur here in Pennsylvania.

In the face of this emerging national health emergency, our focus must be on suppressing the spread of COVID-19. We can work to accomplish this by providing our school districts with the tools they need to create solutions to help eliminate the COVID-19 pandemic and to expand their capacity to maximize instructional time.

I respectfully ask you to join me by co-sponsoring this legislation.