USDE Releases Guidance to States on Assessing Student Learning During the Pandemic (February 22, 2021)

On Monday, February 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) provided guidance to states emphasizing the importance of flexibility in administering assessments this year as a result of the pandemic and supporting the use of assessment data as a source of information for parents and educators to target resources and support, rather than for accountability purposes this year.

State assessments and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity, identifying student needs, and targeting the resources to address them. At the same time, some schools and districts may not be able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices, while others may wish to prioritize learning time during the scant in-person schooling time this year in many communities. The pandemic requires that states have significant flexibility in implementing this work for the 2020-2021 school year and ED’s guidance is a practical approach that balances these two priorities.

“The Department of Education is committed to supporting all states in assessing student learning during the pandemic to help target resources and support to the students with the greatest needs,” said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. “We also recognize that at a time when everything in our education system is different, there need to be different ways that states can administer state tests like moving them to the fall so that precious in-person learning time this year can be spent on instruction. Balancing these priorities is the best approach.”

The USDE’s guidance makes clear that states should consider the ways they can do things differently this year. Flexibility available to states includes:
-Extending the testing window and moving assessments to the summer or fall;
-Giving the assessment remotely, where feasible;
-Shortening the state assessment, to make testing more feasible to implement and prioritize in-person learning time.

The USDE also recognizes that individual states may need additional assessment flexibility based on the specific circumstances across or within the state. The USDE is prepared to work with states to address their individual needs and conditions while ensuring the maximum available statewide data to inform the targeting of resources and support.

In addition to encouraging flexibility around assessments, the USDE is allowing states to request a waiver for the Every Student Succeeds Act’s accountability and school identification requirements. This flexibility will explicitly include waiving the accountability provisions relating to having a 95 percent test participation rate.

The USDE’s letter to Chief State School Officers outlining its plans for the 2020-2021 school year can be found here

Nellie Bly Scholarship Program Aimed at Helping 44,000 PASSHE Students Afford College (February 20, 2021)

At a press conference, Governor Tom Wolf held a press conference to discuss how his historic Nellie Bly Scholarship Program would provide need-based financial assistance for students at 14 universities in the state’s system.

“Our country has a student loan debt crisis and it’s a burden that lasts for years and holds young people back from starting a family, buying a home and saving for retirement,” said Gov. Wolf. “I am proposing the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program to help college students build lives in their communities rather than struggling to pay student loan bills every month.”

The Nellie Bly Scholarship Program provides a scholarship to full-time undergraduate students at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities who have a household income of under $104,800. For the most economically disadvantaged students, the scholarship covers the tuition and fees gap not covered by a student’s Pell and PA State Grants. In exchange, the students agree to stay in Pennsylvania after graduation for the same number of years for which they receive the benefit or the scholarship becomes a low-interest loan. The scholarships benefiting 44,000 students would be funded by repurposing $199 million in slot machine revenue that is directed to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund. Approximately 80 percent of the revenue goes to purses for horse owners, many of whom are from other states or countries. The fund has provided more than $3 billion over 16 years to subsidize the single private industry, which should be ready to support itself in a free-market capitalist economy. This $3 billion in addition to the traditional support the industry receives from the commonwealth including payments from the Pari-mutuel Wagering Tax and Clean and Green, a preferential tax assessment program, among others.  The fund would still support health and pension benefits for horseman organizations as the original slots law intended.

To learn more, click here.

PDE/BCTE PennLink Provides CATS Info to LEAs (February 16, 2021)

On February 16, 2021, Dr. Lee Burket, Bureau of Career and Technical Education Director, sent a PennLink communiqué to all LEAs titled 2021-2022 Career and Technical Education Information System (CATS) Secondary Program Approval File. The memo urges recipients to share this information pertaining to the re-approval of the CATS Program with your high school principals, career and technical education (CTE) supervisors, curriculum coordinators, applicable department chairs, business managers, school counselors, CTE instructional staff, and school support personnel.

CATS Program Re-Approval
For the 2021-2022 school year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education/Bureau of Career and Technical Education (PDE/BCTE) in accordance with Chapter 339.4(a)(2), will begin to review all existing secondary approved programs currently being offered at career and technical centers (CTCs) across the commonwealth. School district approved secondary programs will be re-approved during the 2022-2023 school year. The CATS file is a series of individual pages containing data elements pertaining to various aspects of approved programs. All school entities with approved programs must ensure that all data element information in CATS is accurate. Failure to comply may result in programs no longer being approved. Professional staff from the PDE/BCTE will be contacting all CTCs to assist with the re-approval process. CTCs have until May 31, 2021 to update the data elements in CATS. CATS can be accessed at the login on PDE’s homepage.

2021-2022 CATS Secondary Program Initial Approval
The 2021-22 CATS Secondary Program Approval file is now open for new secondary CTE program approval requests. The CATS file is a series of individual pages containing data elements pertaining to various aspects of approved CTE programs. The newly updated CATS Secondary Program Approval Instructions are available on the PDE website. BCTE recommends that approval for Programs of Study (POS) be sought for all programs for which a POS exists. Programs for which a POS has not been developed, approval must be sought for a CTE delivery. All approved programs must be delivered as POS or Career and Technical Education. All industry certifications MUST be entered for the teacher and students. The deadline for seeking new program approval is May 31, 2021.

CATS can be accessed at the login on PDE’s homepage.The Career Pathway Option is a radial button in CATS to connect two or more Classification of Instructional Programs (CIPs) that are POS approved programs and offer the same foundational technical curriculum the first year. This pathway allows students to experience several related CIPs in a POS Pathway and require specific elements for pathway approval.  Any secondary school may submit a request for POS approval. Currently, there are 43 POS available on PDE’s website. The competency/task grid for each POS is the foundational curriculum framework for the CIP. Therefore, all competencies/tasks must be addressed in the approved program. POS competency/task grids have been revised and are posted on the PDE website. Local Education Agencies must use the most recent list available. Additional competencies should be added as recommended by your Occupational Advisory Committee. Each course in the scope and sequence must be cross-walked to the task grid and aligned to the course where the tasks are taught in the specific information tab in block 2.In addition, your approved POS will provide the benefit of the articulated credits indicated by the statewide group of postsecondary institutions on

Questions should be referred to Tammy Keisling, at (717)783-6996 or email

PDE Provides Update on Statewide Assessments; Uncertainty Remains (February 15, 2021)

In a “Dear Colleague” letter dated February 12, 2021, PA Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Matthew S. Stem provided an update on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) planning for statewide assessments required by the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Noting that the update is “long overdue,” he said that PA would be heading “down one of two paths within the next two weeks”. Those two paths are:

1.  If the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) changes direction and invites state waivers from school year 2020-21 assessment administration, PDE will carefully consider such an option and will likely quickly survey local education agency (LEA) leadership to gather data that could inform such a waiver request. At this time, PDE is not requesting this information because it is unclear what requirements USDE would include in a waiver process, should one become available.

2.  If the USDE requires states to move forward with assessment administration, PDE will quickly issue guidance that balances, to the greatest extent possible, the complexities of statewide testing during the pandemic and safety considerations for students, staff, and families. In the event Pennsylvania moves forward with Spring testing,the testing windows would be:

        PSSA: April 19 -May 28, 2021

        PASA: March 8 -May 7, 2021

        Keystone Exams: May 17 -June 25, 2021

Within these windows, schools would not be required to test all students in a cohort at one time. Schools could test smaller groups for the sake of social distancing, thorough cleaning, and other prescribed safety protocols. Any school that remains in a remote or hybrid learning situation in March, and cannot safely provide face-to-face Keystone exams during the extended Winter Keystone window,would plan to test those students during the Spring window.

In closing, the letter states that PDE will continue to monitor developments every day, and will do its best to communicate a definitive path forward by the end of February 2021.

USDE COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools Released to Supplement New CDC Guidelines (February 12, 2021)

Immediately following the CDC’s February 12, 2021 release of its Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, the US Department of Education (USDE) released U.S. Department of Education COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools. The first volume supplements CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation. ED’s handbook provides practical examples and roadmaps to provide educators and staff with the tools they need to implement CDC’s recommended safe practices for in-person learning. Access the handbook by clicking here or by going to: