Attorney general's office approves graduation exams

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Graduation exams are coming to Pennsylvania's public high schools, but the current state reading and math tests for 11th graders may be on their way out.

The state attorney general's office has approved a regulation creating the Keystone Exams, a series of 10 end-of-course exams in reading, math and other subjects that will first affect the class of 2015.

The attorney general's approval was one of the last two hurdles facing the exams. The regulation still must be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, an official journal.

"That will probably be in early or mid-January," said Adam Schott, executive director of the state Board of Education.

Students will have to demonstrate proficiency on at least six of the exams -- or fulfill alternative requirements -- to graduate.

School districts will have the option of designing and using their own graduation tests instead, but they must be at least as rigorous as the Keystone Exams, Mr. Schott said. The regulation also allows Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests to be used in place of Keystone Exams.

Mr. Schott said the state likely will seek federal approval to use the Keystone Exams as a new measure of school, district and state performance under the No Child Left Behind Act. He said that approval would enable the state to eliminate the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment for 11th graders.

Now, PSSA reading and math tests annually are given to public-school students in grades 3-8 and 11. Scores help determine whether schools, districts and the state make "adequate yearly progress," the performance benchmark under No Child Left Behind.

Three Keystone Exams -- algebra 1, biology and literature -- would replace the 11th-grade PSSA in 2012-13. Under the change, Mr. Schott said, all public high schools would use the three Keystone Exams for No Child Left Behind purposes, even if districts opted to design and use their own graduation tests. The PSSA still would be used in the elementary and middle grades.

In November, Attorney General Tom Corbett's office said it had questions about the regulation creating the Keystone Exams.

Education officials answered the questions -- which dealt with the process for shepherding the regulation through the Board of Education and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission -- and Mr. Corbett's office issued a memo Dec. 23 approving the regulation. State education officials confirmed the approval yesterday.

The state Department of Education calls the Keystone Exams part of a move toward "stronger graduation requirements." To help schools adjust, the state is providing model curricula for key subjects and new tools to help teachers pinpoint student weaknesses.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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