Local school officials, students adjust to new Keystone exams

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

The state is moving forward with its new testing and curriculum protocols, but students aren't the only ones learning how to adapt.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education voted March 14 to adopt the new “Common Core Standards” and graduation requirements based on the new Keystone Exams.

Meanwhile, local school districts recently received data from the first round of Keystones administered in Algebra I, biology and English literature in December and January. That data will help districts as they prepare for the second round of Keystones, which will take place in May, and for future years.

“We're going to use the testing data that we received from (the Department of Education) to help us better align our curriculum,” said Ed Mantich, Carlynton's test coordinator and curriculum supervisor.

“So in the future, we can find ways (of seeing) where our gaps may be and where we need to strengthen our educational programs.”

Beginning with the class of 2017, students will be required to score “proficient” or above on the three current Keystone Exams in order to graduate. The scores for students in the classes preceding the class of 2017 will be used to monitor districts' Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

At Carlynton, 60.8 percent of the students who took the Algebra I test scored proficient or above. The numbers totaled 76.5 percent for English literature and 37.5 percent for biology. Carlynton exceeded state averages in algebra (54 percent) and literature (66.8 percent), but fell short of the average in biology (41.5 percent).

Students in eighth through 11th grades who already completed Algebra I took the exams at Carlynton, as did students in 10th grade who already completed biology. Only juniors took the English literature exam.

Chartiers Valley received raw student scores from the Department of Education but hadn't yet analyzed the data to calculate proficiency percentages, spokeswoman Kara Droney said.

Biology scores won't be used to calculate AYP, but students are required to take it to fulfill a No Child Left Behind participation requirement for science exams.

Mantich said juniors who didn't score at the proficient level or above will go through supplemental instruction beginning in early April before taking the exams again in May.

“We're going to give them five solid weeks of (instruction), and we are allowed to retest those students at that particular time,” he said.

Carlynton superintendent Gary Peiffer said the district was put in a difficult spot because the state notified schools in July that administering the first round of Keystones in the winter would be required.

In addition, the Keystones are designed to be end-of-course exams, like a final. Many of the students who took the exams in December completed the required courses in prior years, Peiffer said.

“It's been quite an adjustment for our district to switch and have to give these in a short time span, but it's been quite an adjustment for all districts,” said Peiffer, who added Carlynton's scores could be boosted by “Safe Harbor” and Confidence Interval calculations.

“I really have to commend the staff and administration for what they did to scramble to get these in place, and for the kids to do as well as some of the kids did.”

The Keystones are based on the Common Core Standards, and Carlynton will work to align its curriculum with those standards, Mantich said.

Two more Keystones are in the offing: composition, which will become a graduation requirement with the class of 2019, and civics and government, which will be a graduation requirement with the class of 2020.

The number of Keystones offered could eventually increase to 10.

Board of Education member Nyra Schell said while the graduation requirements won't come for a few years, the district should worry about improving now.

“This is probably a red flag that we need to be bolstering for whatever reason,” she said. “Let's figure out what that reason is and bolster it.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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