HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) began with pleasantries.

“First, good morning to everyone and it’s good to see you all here,” he said with a warm smile to the Secretary of Education and his staff during an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning.

But his tone changed dramatically when the topic changed to the cost of standardized testing.

“Since 2008, we have spent $1.2 billion on a testing and alignment system in this commonwealth while students don’t have nurses or guidance counselors,” Dinniman said emphatically.

“Rather than put the money where the rubber meets the road, which is in the classrooms of this commonwealth.”

Dinniman says PSSA tests and Keystone exams have only conclusively proven one thing: that kids in poor districts perform poorly compared to wealthier peers. We’re impoverishing ourselves, he said, to prove that.

“We’re punishing the very students who we don’t give the resources to by stamping failure on them and on their teachers and on their schools,” he said. “I’m trying to understand what the philosophy of the department is.”

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says assessments are required and a good thing because they ensure Pennsylvania students are measuring up. But Rivera said he also recognizes there’s a downside.

“We should have never created this culture where we’re teaching to the tests,” Rivera said following the hearing. “I mean, we should be teaching the skills and as a result assess those skills and that’s what we have to change.”

Critics also point to students that take the test this school year won’t get results until next school year when they’ve already moved on to a different teacher. Rivera promised changes he intends to implement.

“Reduce testing by 25 percent, which would be welcome by every student and every educator in the commonwealth. Secondly, how to get the test back sooner so it can drive instruction for the next year,” he said. “It is something we’re working on.”

But Dinniman can’t justify spending so much for a test that, in his view, accomplishes so little when there are so many needs elsewhere.

“I’m not trying to be hyper-critical, but I just don’t understand,” Dinniman said with exasperation.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget would spend $58 million on standardized testing.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download our News App and our Weather App for your phone and tablet.