Northeast Times

Hooray for cheating on the state PSSAs!

River­ward Rant: Colum­nist Joe Quigley be­lieves there are faults in stand­ard­ized test­ing.

If you have a child in a Philly pub­lic school, you prob­ably know about the Pennsylvania Sys­tem of School As­sess­ment ex­am, or PSSA tests.

I’ll be blunt, I be­lieve that the PS­SAs are an in­cred­ibly il­lo­gic­al joke, borne out of the No Child Left Be­hind Act which, es­sen­tially, throws stand­ard­ized tests at stu­dents to “as­sess” the qual­ity of their edu­ca­tion.

If stu­dents in a par­tic­u­lar school per­form poorly on the tests, that school’s budget is slashed.

Of course, the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion doesn’t take cer­tain as­pects of the pun­ished school in­to ac­count, like — let’s see — the num­ber of drug deal­ers roam­ing the halls and in­ter­rupt­ing classes for kids who are ac­tu­ally try­ing to learn.

The De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion also doesn’t take in­to ac­count that slash­ing the school’s budget does noth­ing more than make the school suf­fer, po­ten­tially fail­ing these stu­dents and cre­at­ing more drug deal­ers — who will then go to oth­er schools and dis­rupt class for those kids and thus cause those chools’ budgets to be slashed.

Then, the idi­ots who sup­port stand­ard­ized tests like the PS­SAs will com­plain that we spend too much tax money lock­ing up drug deal­ers.

It’s a vi­cious cycle.

So, as re­por­ted re­cently, loc­al prin­cipals and teach­ers who are try­ing to keep their jobs and their schools’ budgets have come up with a bril­liant idea — cheat!

They real­ize the PS­SAs are a point­less waste of time and — if you’ll al­low me to be cyn­ic­al — are just an­oth­er way for our won­der­ful state gov­ern­ment to jus­ti­fy sav­ing cash by cut­ting the budgets of schools in troubled neigh­bor­hoods.

Know­ing that half their stu­dents can’t pass the stand­ard­ized tests, pub­lic-school teach­ers and prin­cipals in pos­sibly as many as 53 schools — as re­por­ted in re­cent stor­ies in both the In­quirer and Daily News  — have fed stu­dents the an­swers and even altered their stu­dents’ an­swer sheets.

The School Re­form Com­mis­sion — the bunch of bur­eau­crats that they are — have de­cided they won’t tol­er­ate such an in­dig­nity.

And that’s something I find hil­ari­ous, be­cause they’re more than will­ing to suf­fer oth­er in­dig­nit­ies, such as the sick­en­ing dis­par­it­ies in pub­lic edu­ca­tion and the fact that they are pun­ish­ing our most vul­ner­able kids be­cause, as I said, the schools most likely to have their budgets cut are the ones in the poorest neigh­bor­hoods.

The SRC is su­per ser­i­ous about root­ing out these cheat­ers; it’s even bring­ing in former Temple Uni­versity pres­id­ent Dav­id Adam­any as a “watch­dog” to set things right.

In my opin­ion, it’s ri­dicu­lous that, ac­cord­ing to the SRC, set­ting things right means re­in­for­cing a No Child Left Be­hind-era idea that doesn’t even work.

As a former em­ploy­ee of the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia at Kens­ing­ton Culin­ary High School, I was able to sit in on a meet­ing con­cern­ing the PS­SAs where teach­ers and ad­min­is­trat­ors — most of whom cared deeply about their stu­dents — wor­ried about the pos­sib­il­ity of los­ing their jobs and hav­ing the school’s already tiny budget hacked up even more.

They all had a dif­fi­cult time find­ing ways to even get their stu­dents mo­tiv­ated to take the test, since any stu­dent’s per­form­ance on the PSSA test has no bear­ing what­so­ever on his “real” grades.

I mean, it’s not like you’ll get an ex­tra five points on your SATs be­cause you aced an ir­rel­ev­ant state school as­sess­ment test.

These edu­cat­ors pro­ceeded to ded­ic­ate their valu­able time to stand­ard­ized tests rather than ac­tu­ally teach their kids. Be­cause, let’s be hon­est, these tests — and the prep time in­volved — don’t really chal­lenge a stu­dent to think crit­ic­ally.

In­stead, it’s mem­or­iz­ing in­form­a­tion without con­text, which is as bad an edu­ca­tion as any­one can get.

But, hey, the dam­age ap­pears to be done.

I think that the state De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion, the SRC, and the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia are all bey­ond re­pair, which is why I want every­one who ac­tu­ally real­izes and un­der­stands the prob­lems fa­cing our pub­lic schools to act­ively and loudly en­cour­age these prin­cipals and teach­ers to cheat as much as they can.

By cheat­ing on the PS­SAs — and thus keep­ing their schools afloat — those edu­cat­ors can hope­fully use their ex­tra time in class to teach stu­dents some ac­tu­al crit­ic­al-think­ing skills.

God knows we need more crit­ic­al thinkers.

And if they learn crit­ic­al think­ing now, when they get older, these stu­dents might be smart enough not to make their kids suf­fer through the same idiocy that gives us junk like the PS­SAs. ••

ldquo;River­ward Rants” re­flects the opin­ions of Joe Quigley, a Fishtown res­id­ent, area nat­ive and writer of the Web site PhillyNeigh­, where he makes cyn­ic­al (and un­censored) com­ments about life in the river­wards. He can be reached at

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