Penn State faculty report on validity of PA graduation assessments

February 25, 2009

University Park, Pa. — Penn State College of Education faculty Rayne Sperling and Jonna Kulikowich have just completed a systematic study of Pennsylvania school districts’ local graduation assessments.

Through criteria established in meetings with Pennsylvania educators, they have concluded that, based on the information submitted and practices reported by school districts, approximately 5 percent of the participating districts use assessments that both align to state standards and represent practices that could be considered valid measures of proficiency.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education requires that districts offer a local assessment that provides an alternative method for students to graduate if they do not successfully meet proficiency of standards through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) 11th grade administration and 12th grade retake.

In 2007, more than 56,000 Pennsylvania students graduated with the local assessments as one requirement to earn a high-school diploma. Until now, there has been no systematic review of what assessments school districts provide as this alternative route to graduation.

In a study funded by a $275,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Sperling and Kulikowich collected the assessments from approximately 85 percent of Pennsylvania school districts. The 418 participating districts sent in assessment materials and information about their assessment practices in response to a request from State Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchek.

Eight review panels consisting of public educators from across Pennsylvania then reviewed the submitted assessment materials and rated them on the basis of their alignment with 11th grade state proficiency standards in Mathematics and Reading. The panels also established criteria to rate the assessments based on practices, or the manner in which districts reported the local assessments were administered and how the results were used in graduation decisions.

“The districts use a variety of materials and practices,” said Sperling. “Some use commercially available materials while others have developed their own assessments. There was considerable variability in the nature of the local assessments across districts regardless of district size or location.”

District superintendents may send a request for their own district’s assessment results to

The entire report and its summary is available on the Penn State College of Education Web site at


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Last Updated March 19, 2009