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Students across the country are required to participate in standardized assessments to measure their progress as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act. In Pennsylvania, the umbrella program that oversees the various assessments is called the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). This has been developed over time, in alignment with state academic standards, to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania are performing to levels of proficiency.
The assessments that students take provide a wealth of data: areas of strengths and weaknesses in the academic performance of students can be seen, teacher and school practices that help promote proficiency can be seen and whether schools are meeting their adequate yearly progress in having all students meet the standards can be seen. Starting in grade 3, the No Child Left Behind Act calls upon students to be assessed in Reading and Mathematics yearly through grade 8 and then again in high school; students must also be assessed in Science in grades 4, 8 and 11. States may put in place additional assessment to ensure thorough oversight of student performance.
Students take the state assessment in Mathematics in grades 3-8 and 11. The assessment is criterion-referenced meaning that it is tied to the expectations of learning in math. Those expectations are that students will become proficient in the following topics: numbers and operations, measurement, geometry, algebra and data analysis (probability, statistics). Questions are given in multiple-choice and open-ended formats.
On the Reading assessment which is given to students in grades 3-8 and 11, students’ abilities in reading comprehension, interpretation and analysis are tested. Students are presented with both fiction and non-fiction upon which multiple-choice and open-ended questions are based. Specific genres of literature are targeted for different grade levels so that content on the assessments is grade-level appropriate.
The Mathematics Assessment for students in all grades 3-8 and 11 have 60-72 multiple-choice questions and 3-4 opened-ended questions. The questions are scored differently, multiple choice items are worth one point and open-ended questions are scored on a 0-4 scale. Students have 180 minutes for the assessment and timing accommodations are offered to students who require them.
The Reading Assessment asks questions about reading passages in multiple-choice and open-ended formats. Multiple-choice questions are worth one point and open-ended questions are worth 3 points. There are scoring guidelines used for scoring the open-ended responses. The Reading Assessments can take up to 215 minutes to complete, with breaks between sections.