State Board of Education favors reducing graduate requirement tests
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With $23.2 million already invested in developing mandatory state tests for high school graduation, the state Board of Education has voted to move forward with the exams but to require fewer of them.
The state board Thursday recommended considering changes to the plan it passed in 2010 for Keystone Exams. The plan had called for the state to develop 10 Keystone Exams in various disciplines and require students to be proficient in six of them.
But on a 13-0 vote, the board favored reducing the number of exams required for graduation to five. It also called for developing five others that would be voluntary -- if enough money is available.
The change isn't final until it goes through the regulatory process, including input from the public, state legislators and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
Then it will come back for another state board vote and, if approved again, be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
But given the tests are already on the books, the Keystones are expected to proceed. The graduating Class of 2017 -- eighth-graders next school year -- will need to be proficient in three of the end-of-course exams: Algebra 1, biology and literature.
The seniors could demonstrate proficiency through another permitted means in order to graduate from high school.
Two other required end-of-course tests for graduation will be added, composition for the Class of 2019 and beyond, and the exam for civics and government for the Class of 2020 and beyond.
If funding is available, five other exams will be developed that districts could use voluntarily: geometry, U.S. history, Algebra 2, chemistry and world history.
"New York has its Regents. We will have our Keystones," said state board Chairman Larry Wittig.
In a news release, state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said, "We must increase the rigor of our standards and assessments to ensure students are prepared for postsecondary success, whether that is in college or entering the workforce."
The measure provides alternate means of showing proficiency, including locally approved and independently validated assessments and a project-based assessment system for 12th-graders to be developed by the state Department of Education.
Schools will be required to provide supplemental instruction for students who aren't proficient. Students will be able to re-take the test if they participate in the extra instruction.
The action comes five years after the debate over mandatory graduation competency exams began. The idea then was so controversial that 22 statewide organizations and 130 school boards came out opposed to them in 2008.
Mr. Wittig said the original plans were made when the state had more money.
"We in our little ivory tower can throw anything out there, but when the rubber hits the road, it costs money," he said.
When the economy turned downward and pension contributions turned upward, there was no longer enough money available. At Gov. Tom Corbett's request, execution of the plan was put on hold this school year.
About $2.2 million is in this year's budget for the Keystones, and $15 million is expected in 2012-13.
The first three tests were piloted in 2010-11. The results were 39 percent scored proficient or advanced -- the standard for graduation -- in Algebra 1, 36 percent in biology and 50 percent in literature.
Many school districts are working to realign their curricula with new standards known as the Common Core and prepare students to do better on the tests.
Baldwin-Whitehall Superintendent Lawrence Korchnak was glad the board decided on five exams, instead of three, a proposal which had been considered earlier.
"It is not as complete an assessment of student proficiency as the original plan, but it is better than three," he said.
Jillian Bichsel, director of academic services for the Quaker Valley School District, said she believes the Keystone Exams are "good," but the state "needs to stop moving the target so we can do what we do best -- educate and prepare kids for their future."
First Published May 11, 2012 12:00 am