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Please Note: We had to remove some of our daily updates from this webpage but if you are looking for specific information please contact Jess Hickernell.
Information for the 2020-21 School Year
2021 Standardized Testing
Updated March 25, 2021: PCPCS compiled the recent questions that our members had regarding state testing this year and PDE responded. Below are the questions (in black) and answers (in red):
Normally, when testing is happening in a school, the tested students are not supposed to receive content instruction during times when they are not taking their tests. However, with extended testing windows this year, can students who are not currently being tested continue to receive normal instruction. For instance, if we start testing 5th graders, can the other grades that will be tested later continue with their normal instruction even though the testing window is open?
Students can absolutely receive instruction. Generally, we’re not opposed to students receiving instruction the week of testing anyway. The fine line is assessment-specific instruction. Schools cannot deliver specialized instruction related to what students see on the assessment between sections.
If we start testing grade 5 in the spring and we run into issues, could we hold off on doing the other grades until the summer or September? There are usually strict timespans that the tests have to be administered in…are there flexibilities there? If we start testing a grade in the spring but only have 40% (for example) participation because student won’t come back in for testing, can we continue testing that grade in the summer or September as families begin to feel safer coming back to school?
You can do that. We’re allowing you to spread testing out as needed.
If we test students in the Fall, are we giving current 8th-graders the 8th grade PSSA or will we have to give that test to students who are in the 9th grade during the 2021-22 school year? If the answer is the latter, how do we handle the logistics when those students have left our school and moved to a different high school?
If you test in the fall, you’re still testing the students you would have tested in the Spring. We’re working out the details, but you’ll generally be expected to try and work out something to cover students that move on during the Summer. The extension is not intended to be a means to exempt students from testing.
What should we do if a student was with us this year (2020-21) but they choose to move to the school district or a private school in the 2021-22 school year? Will they still have to take the test they should have received this Spring?
Yes. Again, you’re responsible for testing all students enrolled with you this Spring. A choice to delay testing does not change the group of students you must test.
Will participation rates impact schools in any way? Even in the Fall, we may have families who aren’t comfortable returning for testing.
Participation rates will be publicly reported in accordance with Federal law. We don’t yet know whether this year’s participation rates might affect future accountability measurements in 2021 and beyond.
How do we handle testing for students who are graduating this year?
With a few notable exceptions for EL and special education students, Seniors would only be tested because your schools choose to. PDE requires that all students test by the end of grade 11, so Seniors typically only participate due to local requirements. With that in mind, it’s your schools’ call.
Will PDE be allowing schools to use DRC’s online testing options?
Schools can test online as usual. Remote testing (like the CDT) will not be offered. All students must test under the in-person supervision of a TA, whether they use the paper books or the online engine.
Will there be additional opt-out options for families beyond the one for religious reasons?
There will not be additional opt-out provisions this year. Opt-out rules are governed by statue. The statute has not changed and it does not appear it will change.
What if we start testing and the school or certain classrooms have to close for quarantining? How should we handle the timeline at that point?
If a classroom is quarantined, you may hold the materials and resume when the class reconvenes.
Can PDE confirm that no school will be penalized for not meeting the 95% participation rate? No funding cuts or sanctions if it is not met?
I can confirm that the 95% participation rate will not be used to determine sanctions or funding cuts. USDE is providing waivers to the participation rate, so long as a school makes a good faith effort to administer the assessments. I should mention (because I’ve been asked this question already) that my office will not view a school which actively encourages refusal and/or opting out as having put in a good faith effort.
If a school decides to just not administer standardized tests this year – but they are using local assessments – what is the penalty?
Nobody has ever tried this before, so it’s unknown what would happen in the end. I imagine the courts would be involved. That said, PDE and USDE could pursue revocation of Title I funding and potentially other federal funds. Administration of the assessments are a condition of receipt for most federal education funding. Additionally, we could consider referral of the educators in charge to the Professional Standards and Practices Commission, since they’d be refusing to carry out their duties per federal and state law.
Is the flexibility in the testing window for both PSSAs and Keystone Exams, or just PSSAs?
Flexibility is provided for PSSAs, Keystone Exams, PASAs, and ACCESS for ELs.
Is PDE going to be allowing schools to shorten the tests? If so, will you be telling us what parts of the tests can be cut?
No, the tests are being administered in full. Our assessments cannot currently be shortened any further without substantial risk to their reliability. If you’ll remember, we just shortened PSSAs a couple of years ago to the extent we could without compromising the assessments.
Message to School Leaders: Announcing weekly updates on the implementation of the ARP ESSER fund (released 4/16/21)
UPDATED: American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund – FAQs (updated 4/16/21)
Message to School Leaders: Update on the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine (released 4/13/21)
Message to School Leaders: Updated Instructional Model Recommendations (released 4/5/21)
Determining Instructional Models During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools (updated 4/5/21)
Instructional Model Recommendations During the COVID-19 Pandemic: FAQs (updated 4/5/21)
Message to School Leaders: Vaccination Update (released 4/2/21)
Message to School Leaders: Updates to PA’s Health and Safety Recommendations for Schools (updated 3/30/21)
Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19 (updated 3/30/21)
FAQs on Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19 (updated 3/30/21)
Public Health Guidance for School Communities: Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools During COVID-19 (updated 3/30/21)
Summer Recreation, Camps and Pools FAQs (released 3/30/21)
Assessment and Accountability – Response from USDE (released 3/29/21)
Message to School Leaders: Recommendations on the use of federal stimulus funding (released 3/29/21)
American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund – Basic Info (released 3/29/21
American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund – Allocations (released 3/29/21)
Message to School Leaders: Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) issuance for the 2020-21 school year (released 3/24/21)
P-EBT FAQs (released 3/24/21)
Attestation Process – Updated with FAQs (updated 2/5/21)
Additional COVID-19 Mitigation Guidelines: On November 23, 2020, Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine announced additional mandates and guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as we enter the holiday season. Several of these efforts will impact schools. PDE and the Department of Health (DOH) released several resources for schools:
- Message To School Communities from PDE and DOH (released 11/23) – This was emailed to school leaders and outlines the changes announced by Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine.
- Order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Directing Public School Entities in Counties with Substantial Community Transmission to Attest to Health and Safety Protocols (released 11/23) – This is the official order signed by Secretary Levine relating to the updated requirements for schools.
- Attestation Form (released 11/23) – This webpage includes the form, guidance on how to complete and submit the form, and FAQs.
- UPDATED – Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19 (updated 11/23)
- UPDATED – Public Health Guidance for School Communities (updated 11/23)
- UPDATED – COVID-19 Answers to Common Questions (updated 11/23)
- UPDATED – Level of Community Transmission Table (updated 11/23)
Truancy and Attendance: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (released 11/3)
COVID-19 School Health Resources for School Nurses and Other School Health Care Personnel (released 10/6) – This document is intended as a reference tool for school-based nurses, administrators and staff managing potential COVID-19 cases in a school setting grades pre-K to 12 in Pennsylvania.
Equitable Practices Hub (released 9/22) – This is a “one-stop shop” to access selected resources for educators, families and communities to consider how to promote equity in their school community. Resources in the Hub include approaches to equity that people can take as individuals, shape practices in the classroom, implement broadly across a school or entire district, and include journal articles, videos, assessments, and other tools.
Operating Schools in a Pandemic: Predicted Effects of Opening, Quarantining, and Closing Strategies (released 9/16) – This research is designed to provide every school leader with highly relevant modeling around various reopening strategies, information on what those strategies imply for when an infection presents, and projections for what the longer-term school year may look like (i.e., how often students and staff could reasonably expect to be in school).
Resources for Care and Education of School-Age Children due to COVID-19 (released 9/8) – The Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) licenses child care providers and has issued a clarification for operation of non-licensed part-day school-age child care (SACC) programs or Learning Pods for the 2020-21 school year as a strategy to support the needs of working families. OCDEL developed the Resources for Care and Education of School-Age Children due to COVID-19 document to assist families in navigating SACC programs for the current school year. For additional information and SACC options, please visit the Pennsylvania Key website.
Updated Information on Transportation for Charter Students (released 8/24)
Strategic Staff Deployment (released 8/24) – The upcoming school year presents LEAs and schools with an opportunity to think strategically about how staff across the system are deployed to accelerate learning, support social and emotional wellness, and ensure connectedness to school for all students. To support school entities with strategic staff deployment, PDE partnered with TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project) and American Institutes for Research to develop:
- A Strategic Staffing Organizational Tool
- Leveraging a Multi-Classroom Teaching Model to Accelerate Student Learning
Information and FAQs on Fire and School Security Drills (released 8/24)
Updates on Contact Tracing in Schools (released 8/24)
Public Health Guidance Regarding COVID-19 for Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools (updated 8/17) – This guidance is being issued by PDE and the PA Department of Health (DOH) to assist Pre-K to 12 schools in developing and implementing Health and Safety Plans for safely returning to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance reflects currently endorsed public health best practices from DOH and is in response to requests from school leaders for state-level health guidance. This guidance serves as minimum standards for practices across all Pre-K to 12 schools with the understanding that more rigorous measures may be required in certain areas depending on community transmission of COVID-19. You can find more information HERE.
Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19 (released 8/13) – This health-focused guidance will serve as an additional resource to help you plan for the health and safety of your school community throughout the 2020-21 academic year. When a case of COVID-19 is identified in a school setting, public health staff from DOH, or the county or municipal health department will work with school administrators to provide additional guidance and advice related to cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing and quarantine recommendations, and closing certain areas of the school or an entire school building if necessary. Also released is a flow chart that outlines the recommended process when a student or staff member presents with symptoms.
Determining Instructional Models During the COVID-19 Pandemic (released 8/10) – Over the past several weeks, staff from the Departments of Education and Health have heard from many school leaders regarding the need for additional public health-related guidance as the start of the 2020-21 school year approaches. While these health-based metrics can be used to inform reopening decisions, they will also be useful in decision-making as conditions change throughout the school year. This tool includes recommendations based on public health conditions. They are not a mandate and schools that have already submitted Health and Safety Plans do not need to resubmit their plans so long as they comply with the masking order issued by DOH in July. You can find FAQs regarding this guidance HERE.
COVID-19 Compensatory Services Graphic Organizer (released 8/7) – This was shared with charter leaders during the regional calls with PDE’s Bureau of Special Education.
Measuring, Reporting, and Improving Attendance in SY 2020-21 (released 8/6) – Part of PDE’s Reopening Roadmap to help school entities plan for attendance issues that may arise in the 2020-21 school year. It is important that evidence-based policies and systems are in place to (1) collect and report daily student attendance, regardless of the instructional setting or delivery method and (2) strategically target investments that address the digital divide, lack of supports (health, economic, nutrition, housing, etc.), and other inequities for students who are chronically absent. This document does not, and is not intended to, prescribe a specific course of action.
Staff & Student Wellness Guide (released 7/31) – Part of PDE’s Reopening Roadmap to help school entities continue to plan for staff and student wellness in their local context. This toolkit does not, and is not intended to, prescribe a specific course of action. You can view an archived webinar, developed by the Office for Safe Schools that offers a facilitated walkthrough of the staff and student wellness guide.
Selecting & Implementing an Instructional Delivery Model for SY20-21 (released 7/28) – Working alongside PDE, Mass Insight Education & Research created a toolkit to help local education agencies (LEAs) continue to plan for effective implementation of instructional delivery models that are best fit for their local context. This toolkit does not, and is not intended to, prescribe a specific course of action. You can watch an archived webinar, developed by Mass Insight Education & Research, that offers a facilitated walkthrough of the Instructional Delivery Model Planning Toolkit.
Considerations for Reopening Pennsylvania Schools (released 6/24) – prepared in partnership with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic at Mathematica, summarizing current COVID-19 research.
Preliminary Guidance for the Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools (released 6/3) – PDE also released a Phased School Reopening Health and Safety Plan Template, which schools should use in crafting their required Health and Safety Plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Please be sure to read the instructions contained in this Template carefully because it outlines exactly what schools are REQUIRED to plan for and address when they reopen.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is extending a suite of nationwide waivers for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through December 31, 2020, or until available funding runs out. This includes:
- Allowing SFSP and SSO meals to be served in all areas and at no cost;
- Permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and meal times;
- Waiving meal pattern requirements as necessary; and
- Allowing parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children.
You can find more information HERE. We will let you know if PDE issues any additional guidance.
Updates From PDE
We are contacting PDE regularly to seek answers to your many questions. Below are reminders of where we stand on guidance and outstanding questions:
- We have received a few calls from concerned charter CEOs about the Emergency Instructional Time Template because the narrative says that LEAs can utilize 180 days or 990/900 hours to meet the instructional time requirements but the fillable chart only allows them to document how they will meet the 180-day requirement. PDE’s response: We actually had a few submissions from charters and they just stated the number of days (even if less than 180) and then indicated they will meet the 990/900 hours. The team that reviews these understands the “or” for charters.
- Per PDE’s guidance, the Emergency Instructional Time Template is supposed to be submitted to PDE with a copy of the board minutes documenting that the alternative schedule was approved. We have had a few charter leaders express concerns that the drafting and approval of board minutes is causing a delay in submitting their Template. PDE responded that charter leaders should send an affirmation statement with your plan once your board approves it, so you don’t have to wait until your minutes are ready. They provided this sample affirmation template for you to use.
- PDE updated the information about instructional days/hours to include this language: “A charter school must work with its authorizer if it is planning to implement some type of alternative schedule or type of instruction.”
- This is not what has been communicated to charter schools thus far with their Continuity of Education Plans or Health and Safety Plans. Charter schools have, up to this point, been directed to get both of these plans approved by their board of directors, posted on their public website and submitted to PDE.
- We asked PDE for clarification and this was their response: Charter schools must work with their authorizers from a logistical standpoint, such as transportation needs and other services. The issue of providing transportation alone is a very complex issue for school districts and the only way they will be able to provide transportation to all the various schools and programs students attend will take the cooperation and collaboration of all schools, including charters. Additionally, we think the best safeguard against any adverse action by an authorizer is for the charter to collaborate in a timely and meaningful way, and to document that collaboration if they travel down this path.
- PDE released Public Health Guidance Regarding COVID-19 for Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools. This guidance serves as minimum standards for practices across all Pre-K to 12 schools with the understanding that more rigorous measures may be required in certain areas depending on community transmission of COVID-19. You can find more information HERE.
- We have received questions from charter leaders asking if the recommendations from PDE, the CDC or the PA Department of Health (like 6 feet between desks) are REQUIRED. Here is PDE’s response:The question on the 6 foot recommendation is one of the most difficult for schools. The language in the guidance states – “When multiple students are in one enclosed space, such as a classroom, seat students at least 6 feet apart and facing the same direction, to the maximum extent feasible.” The PA Department of Health has indicated this guidance (other than the face covering order, which is a requirement) as best practices. The language does state “to the maximum extent feasible”. Ultimately LEAs need to make the final decisions on these factors to safely bring students back to school.
- We have received written confirmation that the “waiver” Secretary Rivera referenced during several of his calls earlier this month is the Emergency Instructional Time Template sent to schools from Matt Stem. If necessary, LEAs should submit completed templates – as a stand-alone document or as an addendum to a Health and Safety Plan – and any questions to: RA-
EDContinuityofED@pa.gov. We have also received written confirmation on when this Template must be used by schools:
- If a brick-and-mortar charter school is planning on opening for the 2020-21 school year with a 100% virtual education model for the entire school year, they DO need to submit an Emergency Instructional Time Template to PDE.
- If a charter school is planning on opening for the 2020-21 school year with in-person instruction, 5-days a week but also provide a full virtual option for students who do not feel comfortable returning to the classroom, they DO need to submit an Emergency Instructional Time Template to PDE.
- If a charter school is planning on opening for the 2020-21 school year using a hybrid or blended learning model (where some students would receive in-person instruction for a certain part of the week while their peers learn at home and then these student groups switch for the remaining part of the week), they DO need to submit an Emergency Instructional Time Template to PDE.
- If a charter school is planning on opening for the 2020-21 school year as virtual only but plans to resume in-person instruction later in the school year, they DO need to submit an Emergency Instructional Time Template to PDE.
- If a charter school is planning on opening for the 2020-21 school year as usual with 5 days of full, in-person instruction, they DO NOT need to submit an Emergency Instructional Time Template to PDE.
- The Secretary confirmed that PDE’s legal team is “confident” that schools can utilize a hybrid/blended model or 100% virtual model and still meet the 180 day or 990/900 hour requirement. PDE has come to this determination based on an in-depth reading of the PA School Code. They are directing school leaders to their website for more information. ***PCPCS is going to be seeking a waiver for this mandate from the General Assembly.
Health and Safety Grants
The School Safety and Security Committee (SSSC) within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) will distribute funds for school safety and security funds under Act 30 of 2020 to address COVID-19 concerns. Through the enacted budget and approved allocation of federal CARES Act funding, $150 million is now available to public schools through a non-competitive grant process.
Funding for the $150 million in school safety funds will follow the distribution formula outlined in Act 30 of 2020. The Act provides that each IU, area career and technical school, charter school, regional charter school or cyber charter school shall receive $90,000 and each school district shall receive a base amount of $120,000 and an additional amount based on the 2018-2019 average daily membership. Allocations under this funding stream must be expended by October 30, 2020 due to federal reporting requirements. Each school entity shall be eligible for a Health and Safety Grant for the following purposes:
- Purchasing of cleaning and sanitizing products that meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Department of Health criteria.
- Training and professional development of staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
- Purchasing of equipment, including personal protective equipment, thermometers, infrared cameras and other necessary items.
- Modification of existing areas to effectuate appropriate social distancing to ensure the health and safety of students and staff.
- Providing mental health services and supports, including trauma-informed approaches for students impacted by the COVID-19 disaster emergency.
- Purchasing educational technology for distance learning to ensure the continuity of education.
- Other health and safety programs, items or services necessary to address the COVID-19 disaster emergency.
More information about the grant can be found HERE.