Some York County school districts delay standardized tests due to COVID-19 pandemic

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Shrewsbury Elementary School third-grader Christian Dozier, left, and her sister, Tanya, a fifth grader, work on Flexible Instruction assignments at their home in Shrewsbury Township Friday, March 13, 2020. Students in the district were provided with daily Flexible Instruction packets originally intended to minimize the impact of snow days. Southern York County School District canceled classes Friday after a community member was tested for the virus. Bill Kalina photo

At least two York County school districts postponed their Keystone exams amid other adjustments to Pennsylvania's standardized testing system because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

South Western School District and Eastern York School District were scheduled to hold Keystone exams this week, according to their district calendars, but neither began the testing, as both are operating via remote learning.

Eastern York Superintendent Joseph Mancuso said his district will start Keystone exams Jan. 19. South Western won't hold its Keystone exams until March, even though students will return to in-person instruction Jan. 19, according to Rob Freil, the district's director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. 

Freil said South Western officials delayed the exams until March to give students and teachers time to adjust to a more familiar form of learning before administering the tests. 

The Keystone exams are the first of several standardized tests Pennsylvania students are scheduled to take this year. The annual exams are typically held at the end of the semester in the winter and spring, while the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, or PSSAs, are held in the middle of the spring semester, Freil said. 

Last year, Pennsylvania canceled its remaining standardized tests for the school year after the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools throughout the state to close. State officials waived the PSSA requirement for students that year, and students scheduled to take the Keystone exams were marked as proficient, Freil said. 

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School districts are required to administer the exams this year. Kendall Alexander, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said thousands of students have already taken the Keystone exams. 

Freil said he and other district officials are concerned about how the pandemic will impact students' test scores. South Western is one of many school districts across Pennsylvania that has switched between learning models several times this year.

Students are required to pass their Keystone exams in order to graduate, Freil said. However, Alexander said Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation delaying "assessment-related graduation requirements for students." The legislation also temporarily removes assessment data from teacher evaluations, she said. 

"We can't really rely on (standardized tests) as a solid measure of what we've been able to do with kids," Freil said. 

The state gives school districts a window of time to administer Keystone exams, Freil said, which typically is between September and December, and is determined by when schools complete the courses assigned to the exams. Because of the pandemic, he said, the state pushed the window to December through March. Keystone exams for the spring semester are held in May, Freil said. 

Some York County school districts have already administered their winter Keystone exams. Spring Grove Area School District spokesperson Stephanie Kennedy said the district held the exams in December, both in person and online. 

More:COVID-19 has killed more than 500 in York County

Districts can allow students to take the exams online. Alexander said the district must ensure students are supervised or are taking the tests in a secure setting.

Freil said South Western does not offer an online option for the exams. Aside from delaying the date, he said, the pandemic has not changed how the district plans to administer the exams.

Along with extending the time windows for the exams, Alexander said, the Department of Education is allowing districts to test smaller groups of students over a longer period. She said districts are also instructed to follow their local health and safety plans during the assessments.