Keystone Exam changes coming soon
By Jodi Weigand
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012, 12:21 a.m.
Updated: Sunday, September 9, 2012
The way the state measures 11th graders' academic progress is expected to change this year.
Under a plan that must be approved by the federal Department of Education, juniors will take state-developed Keystone Exams in algebra I, biology and literature instead of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test this school year.
Passing the exams will be a graduation requirement for The Class of 2017, current eighth-graders.
“The positive thing with them is that they are more subject specific,” said Matthew Curci, Superintendent in the Apollo-Ridge School District. “I think the intent is good in trying to get some standardization as far as what's expected of a student before they graduate.”
However, Curci and other educators in the Alle-Kiski Valley caution against using a one-time assessment to gauge student learning. Some worry that such a “high-stakes” test isn't the right approach.
“I think the true value is whether there was (academic) growth, not an arbitrary cutoff,” said Tom Rocchi, interim superintendent in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
Starting with this year's eighth-graders, students will take the Keystone Exams as an end-of-course assessment. Their scores will be “banked” until their junior year.
The scores will count toward whether districts meet federal academic standards, known as making Adequate Yearly Progress, beginning this school year.
It could be a better measure than the PSSA, said Matthew Kruluts, K-12 principal in the Leechburg Area School District.
“I don't think the (PSSA) is a good test,” he said. “I don't think it tests what we want them to know. I like the Keystones better because, when you're taking the algebra I test, it's algebra I.”
Michael Leitera, South Butler County School District assistant superintendent, said requiring this year's juniors to take the Keystones in courses they may have passed years earlier is not “educationally sound.”
Teachers will need to help most students review the material, he said.
Over the past two years, the state has changed several times its approach to introducing Keystone exams.
As part of the 2012-13 state budget Gov. Tom Corbett reduced the number of Keystone exams from 10 to three, eliminated the requirement for the exams to be factored into a course grade and made passing exams in algebra, literature and biology a graduation requirement.
“Student needs should drive the schedule, the budget, everything we do around here,” Leitera said. “When you have a moving target in terms of how students will be assessed, it's tough to do that.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, feels that passing the Keystones should not be a graduation requirement.
“We believe high-stakes exit exams are not the appropriate way to measure whether students do, indeed, have the skills needed for college and career readiness,” said PSEA Vice President Jerry Oleksiak, during testimony before the State Board of Education in March. “High-stakes exit exams discount any success and achievement that a student may have experienced over the course of a school year.”
But Leitera said high-stakes tests are a part of life.
“For teachers there is the PRAXIS, for lawyers there is the bar exams, the list goes on,” he said. “I think schools are okay with accountability.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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