Compromise reached on state graduation tests
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HARRISBURG -- Schools might not have to give state-created graduation tests after all if their final exams are rigorous enough, according to a compromise between the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak.
Announced yesterday, the compromise calls for removing a requirement that school districts have to give state-created graduation tests, even if those districts used other state-authorized tests to determine whether students have the basic skills to graduate.
"Everyone would have had to administer them. Now it's strictly optional," said Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the association.
The compromise plan also changes the name of the state-created tests from Graduation Competency Exams to Keystone Exams and delays implementation of them by one year.
Under the compromise, the class of 2015 would be the first group required to pass the English, math, science and social studies tests to graduate.
Some lawmakers say the compromise doesn't offer much change, and that the plan still would be costly and would undermine local school boards' authority to set graduation requirements.
Supporters of the compromise say it would ensure uniform graduation standards while giving more flexibility to school boards.
Under controversial regulations approved by the state Board of Education last year, but still not implemented, alternative assessments created by school districts had to be in the form of standard written exams that had to be validated by the state at the expense of the districts.
Under the compromise, the alternative assessments could be in the form of tests, projects, laboratory experiments or portfolios. The state would contribute half the cost of validating them.
Several lawmakers who gathered in the back of the Capitol Media Center to hear the announcement of the compromise walked away discouraged.
"What I saw here is more bureaucracy and more cost to taxpayers," said state Sen. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks.
State Rep. Stan Saylor, who has introduced legislation to block funding for the tests, said the state would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to develop them, and that local school districts would have to spend another $500 million a year to provide remedial help to students who can't pass them.
"The agreement is not in the best interest of children or the taxpayers of Pennsylvania," said Mr. Saylor, R-York.
Still, it isn't clear that the plan will move forward. The compromise must be approved by the state Board of Education, and funding to create the tests must be approved by legislators, many of whom oppose the testing requirement.
First Published March 5, 2009 12:00 am