Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Continues to Top Pennsylvania’s Rankings for PSSA Standardized Test Rankings Whereas TE School District Drops to No. 7 on the List

At the TESD meeting on June 8, the public learned that in addition to a 2.6% tax increase and administration salary increases, the school board’s approval of the budget included the suspension of ERB testing for the 2020-21 school year.

Although the elimination of the ERB testing was cited as a budget strategy, its associated $85,000 price tag did little to move the budget dial. In addition, some school board members argued that the removal of the long-valued ERB testing was not a budget strategy but rather something that was previously discussed.

Arguments on both sides regarding standardized assessment testing (like ERBs) existed long before coronavirus, school closings and distance learning was part of the discussion. Proponents say that standardized testing is a fair and objective measure of student achievement – that the testing ensures that teachers and schools are accountable to taxpayers, and that the most relevant constituents – the parents, actually approve of testing. Opponents say that the tests are neither fair nor objective, stresses out the students and detracts from real learning time.

Faced with the uncertainty of school reopening during the continuing coronavirus crisis, it would seem that assessment testing would be essential in providing an objective view of student performance. The test results provide parents, school board and administrators insight into individual, grade-level, school and district student performance – a thermometer to check the effectiveness of curriculum and gather information on any learning gaps.

Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) is the annual standards-based assessment of what a student should know and be able to do at varying levels in reading, writing, science and math and identifies strengths and weakness of student achievement. In the spring, PA Department of Education cancelled PSSA testing for the 2019-20 school year because of COVID-19.

For the last sixteen years, the Pittsburgh Business Times has analyzed the PSSA test data given to third through eighth graders and the Keystone exams to measure high school proficiency. The Business Times looks at performance on three years of state standardized tests taken by students and compiles its annual school rankings, which were released last week.

Between 2011 and 2014, I tracked the top 15 school districts in Pennsylvania as ranked by PSSA results. As indicated in the chart below, TESD dropped in the PSSA rankings each year during those four years. The District was second in 2011, third in 2012, fourth in 2013, fifth in 2014 and in seventh for 2015. Unionville Chadds Ford topped the list in 2014.

Although the data is missing for 2015-2017, I can now add the 2018, 2019 and 2020 standardized test ranking results (shown below) from Pittsburgh Business Times.

In comparing the two charts, it is remarkable to see that Unionville-Chadds Ford School District consistently remains at the top of the rankings. It makes you wonder what UCFSD is doing so differently than TESD?

The standing of TESD was seventh in 2014 (again unclear about 2015-2017), moved up to fourth in 2018 and 2019 but has slipped back to seventh in the latest results. The 2020 results show that Radnor School District slipped from second to third, Great Valley School District moved up to eleventh and Lower Merion School District remained the same at tenth.

To be clear, a Pennsylvania school district that places in the top 15 or 20 out of 500 districts statewide based on the PSSA exams is an achievement for which students, parents, teachers and administrators can all be proud. However, the downward drop in TESD rankings on PSSA testing does makes you question if the ranking trend had anything to do with the District’s decision to eliminate ERB testing for 2020-21 school year. What’s that saying about “timing is everything”?

Could it be that the District knows more about the standardized testing report card than they are letting the parents and taxpayers know? Rather than viewing standardized testing as a helpful assessment tool and indicator of “need to improve” areas, perhaps the District would prefer to avoid the accountability that accompanies those test results.

It is apparent that many TESD parents differ with the District on assessment testing as a way to evaluate the teaching effectiveness and understand any learning gaps of their children, especially during COVID-19 and distance learning. BUILD T/E has stepped forward, is offering an ERB testing option, and provides the following update:

Since the TESD school board voted to eliminate ERB-CTP testing for the 2020-21 school year, BUILD has had over 50 families with more than 70 children register to receive the registration information the BUILD’s ERB-CTP test. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about this opportunity to ensure student learning is on track during this uncertain time. July testing dates will be released soon. If you are interested in signing up for testing or have more questions about ERB’s in TESD visit

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  1. Thank-you for this information. It is imperative that you continue to report on the actions of this Administration.

    The Administrations dismantling of accountability began years ago with the previous Supt., Dan Waters who taught and passed down the destructive culture to the current Administration. It is a defining characteristic of the administration. Their actions are part of a pattern. They have always been adverse towards oversight and accountability, but the only lesson they learn from the Board and their refusal to hold them accountable for their egregious actions is that they can get away with escalating their egregious actions.

  2. As you say Pattye, placing in the top tier of PA school districts is a proud accomplishment but there is big problem. TE administrators and, apparently the school board by association, do not want to be held accountable to the public. They don’t want to be held accountable for student assessment results so get rid of ERB testing & problem solved.

    I watched that last school board meeting and listened as letter after letter was read from the public. It took nearly 2 hours for the correspondence to be read. But the pleas against the tax increase and the opposition to ERB elimination had absolutely no impact. The school board didn’t listen to the public, they went ahead and raised the taxes and eliminated the ERBs.

    Oversight and accountability mean nothing.

  3. School Board meetings are dog and pony shows. Directors know how they’re going to vote before they get to monthly school board meetings. If you want to affect change, you must attend Committee meetings. The Administration tries their best to control the narrative in committee meetings too but the Directors are more open and less closed in committee meetings than they are in School Board meetings which are only for show.

  4. The only reason to go to a School Board Meeting would be to state your video taped comments to the Board. That way, taxpayers, and citizens can access the meeting on TV or on video and hear your comments and understand issues from our view point. This is huge and a very good reason to attend School Board Meetings. Because of covid, meetings are canceled and public gatherings are discouraged. This gives the Administration even more cover to operate without public view. Look what they do with public view. Can you imagine what’s going on now? Community Matters is a great way to get valuable information to understand what is going on.

    Tell all your friends to read Comminity Matters.

  5. Circling back to a 2.6% tax increase, what kind of tax increases (if any) are other top tier school districts passing on?

    1. Unionville-Chadds Ford School District — the #1 school district for PSSA testing results for several consecutive years imposed a ZERO tax increase for 2020-21.

      1. If other schools are managing with no increase in taxes that dispels the entitled attitude of TE School District that you get what you you pay for. How do the reserves going at TE compared to other school districts? This scenario seems to be an annual event. How do we create change and push back effectively?

    2. Unionville 0%
      Radnor 2.6%
      TE 2.6%
      LMSD 2.6%
      Great Valley 1.22%
      Wallingford 3.4%

      Upper St Clair 1.9%
      Mt Lebanon 0%

  6. I found an online site called SchoolDigger that performs a similar ranking system based on schools’ test scores, with a different methodology and slightly different (though similar) results.

    You can find info about TESD’s SchoolDigger rankings here:

    There’s a chart on the above linked webpage that shows TESD’s performance from 2011 through 2019, and if you click on each year you can see the following:

    2012: TESD performed better than 97.7% of other schools in PA
    2013: … 99%
    2014: … 98.3%
    2015: … 98.1%
    2016: … 99.2%
    2017: … 97.8%
    2018: … 98%
    2019: … 98.3%

    The above numbers show that TESD has a consistent trend of excellence over time.

    You can see SchoolDigger’s PA district rankings here:
    and their methodology is here:

    Using SchoolDigger’s methodology, TESD’s ranking increased by two spots year-over-year between 2018 and 2019. (In this same period, TESD’s ranking dropped by three spots using the Pittsburgh Business Times methodology. Every methodology will yield different results.)

    I understand that some people want ERB testing to continue, and that argument can be made on its own merits.

    But as for the reason for the ERB cancellation, it seems that there should be little concern that it has anything to do with the district’s record of standardized testing.

  7. The board has shown itself to be weak and noneffective for years. The administration is self sustaining, interested more in salaries, bonuses and benefits than educating all the children in all classes as well as possible. Teachers have no accountability to anyone. While my son was in T/E I would say that the teachers should have to be evaluated by the students and parents autonomously each and every year to determine if their contracts are renewed. The T/E district’s dues are now due, past time to change attitude, focus and importance.

  8. FYI, Unionville Chadds Ford was the first district to delay start time for their high schoolers. And all surveys showed improvements after that year.

  9. While the ERBs and PSSAs are both standardized tests, the ERBs are local assessments that do not affect school rankings.
    This is not to say that there’s no merit, but they are very different tests that are used in different ways.

    1. Yes, you are correct – ERBs are local assessment and PSSA are state mandated standardized testing. And for 2020-21 school year, in the TE School District there will be no ERB testing and the PSSAs were cancelled during the coronavirus.

    1. I’m not sure who you mean by “we” are against testing. There are probably as many people who support standardized testing as there are those who passionately oppose. However, of the 60 letters from the public which were read at the June school board meeting, not one supported the elimination of ERBs in the 2020-21 budget.

  10. I don’t know what ERB testing is for but it’s definitely not for the students or parents. Administrators say it’s to identify academic weaknesses, and parents are called to talk about it. Not true. Administrators/teachers do not call parents to talk about their kids academic performance. Teachers call parents or write parents e-mails to talk about their child’s behavior. That’s what parents are notified about, not their child’s academic progress. If a parent gets anything out of ERB testing results, it’s because they initiated contact with the Administration/teacher to talk about it and ask for remediation for their child. Good luck with that.
    TESD is about the teachers and their union and the Administration. It’s not about doing the right thing for kids and parents. It isn’t.

  11. Standardized tests are flawed. They can be gamed. A district’s quality nor its tax rate are in any way related to standardized tests.

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