e-Comm Alerts

A bi-weekly service of PenSPRA is the e-Comm Alert bulletin. The current issue is posted on this page, and an e-mail notifies members that a new issue is available.  
e-Comm Alerts highlight member news, state initiatives and items of interest in the field of educational communications. 

You may use articles from e-Comm alerts in your district publications, but please credit PenSPRA.
Past issues are in the right column.
CURRENT Issue: July 27, 2015 — Volume 11, #1

1. ESEA moving forward; opt out provision included
2. PSSA results may require careful reporting
3. No progress on state budget
4. Member request/Member mention
5. Other news from around the state and nation

ESEA moving forward; opt out provision included

The re-authorization of ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is finally moving forward. Both the Senate and the House have now passed a version of the bill, and the bills are moving forward to the conference process. In conference, the differences between the two bills will be negotiated into one bill. The new version is known as ECAA, or the Every Child Achieves Act.

The similarities of the House and Senate bills are as follows: both bills place a ban on federal government intervention in how states evaluate schools and teachers. The bills prevent the US Department of Education from either requiring or incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards. It does not mandate the Common Core, but allows the states to set their own standards.

The main difference between the two bills is that the House version of the bill allows for federal dollars to follow a student to a charter school using a voucher.

There was a great deal of discussion and negotiation surrounding the standardized testing requirement of ESEA, which exists currently in NCLB. The new version does not remove the annual testing requirement, but it does not specify how much testing should occur each year and it does remove the “high stakes” from the tests. This change will allow states to legislate the frequency and length of testing, instead of being mandated from the federal level.

Two amendments about testing are included in the current versions. The Baldwin amendment provides funding to states to audit their testing. The audit would ask the following questions:
  • How much money do the tests cost?
  • How much time do they take?
  • How long does it take for the scores to come out?
  • Are the tests "valid," "reliable," "relevant"?
  • Are they "accessible" to students with all kinds of disabilities?
A second amendment from Senator Bennet requires states to cap the percentage of instructional time spent taking assessments required by federal law, the state or the local district.

Finally, this article discusses how the Education Secretary would lose power if these versions of ESEA pass, and in reverse, how the Education Secretary could become very powerful if ESEA is not reauthorized, under a new President.

Stay tuned for further updates on ESEA! We have been waiting a long time for these legislative changes and they seem to finally be moving forward.

PSSA results may require careful reporting

The PSSA’s were revised last year and the difficulty level was noticeably increased. Many educators and commentators predicted a drop in scores due to the changes in the tests and early reports of the soon-to-be-released scores indicate a significant drop.

Dropping test scores is not the story any of us want to be presenting to our communities. Even though there is a valid reason for the drop, that logic is unlikely to make it into newspaper headlines. This quote below from PDE might be useful in your communications to your community.

"This is the first year that the new assessment was fully aligned to the new, more rigorous PA Core Standards, so comparing to prior years isn't an apples to apples comparison," said Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Education. "The scores this year will serve as a baseline for future years."

Key takeaway – Because the tests were changed last year, these scores are a new baseline; they are not a drop in scores. Repeat after me! These scores are a baseline; they are not a drop in scores.

Let’s direct the conversation to the actual status of testing in our state. We are at point one on a graph. We do not have years of data behind us.

Unfortunately, teacher evaluations and school and district SPP scores will still be based on this data, and this could be confusing to your community. The best we can do is to be aware of all the contradictions presented by the situation with the new tests and baseline scores.

No progress on state budget

Here is the latest on the situation with the state budget. The last negotiations made little progress and now legislators are out of session, with a scheduled return date of August 25.

Some state non-profit groups are working together to attempt to put pressure on legislators to pass a budget sooner, organizing a budget stalemate call in day, on Wednesday July 29th: Here is some information on the call-in day

Member request/Member mentions
A question from member Jessica Lester – “For those of you who help to generate advertising revenue for your school district, I am looking for advice/recommendations. What are the ways in which you make your advertising programs known to businesses? Do you spend money on marketing materials/mailings? Do you belong to multiple chambers of commerce and/or attend networking events? I am looking to more thoroughly develop our program here at PVSD and would love some advice.” You can contact Jessica here

PenSPRA member Adam Aurand wrote this article on crisis communications for PSBA. Congratulations Adam!

Other news from around the state and nation


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Contact PenSPRA
If you have an item for e-Comm Alert, please contact Karen Smith
Gregory Hayes, President, Williamsport Area SD (570) 327-5500
Angela Linch, Secretary/Treasurer, Methacton SD (610) 489-5020
Karen Smith, PenSPRA Executive Director (215) 622-1779
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