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Educators anxious about switch to Keystone Exams

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:13 a.m.

Students across Pennsylvania begin taking the much-anticipated Keystone Exams next month, but many educators worry whether they will take the tests as seriously as they should.

That's because passing the standardized tests won't be required for graduation until the Class of 2017.

“If I were a principal ... I would be working hard to motivate (my students),” said Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

The tests given to juniors will determine whether high schools meet academic goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Until this year, the state used the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment to measure whether schools are showing Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.

“Yeah, there's some anxiety. We're familiar with the PSSA,” said Norman Catalano, curriculum coordinator in the Woodland Hills School District, which achieved AYP this year.

Teachers will administer the first Keystone Exams on Dec. 3 in English literature, algebra I and biology. Hippert said educators worry that some juniors will be tested on material they learned in seventh grade.

“(Schools) could fail to meet AYP. And if they do, it's important to recognize that during this transition year, drawing a conclusion from the data would be unfair,” Hippert said.

Students in grades eight through 10 are taking the Keystone Exams this school year, but the results won't count toward their schools' AYP reports.

The AIU has been helping districts align their curriculums with Common Core State Standards, used to develop the Keystone tests. Common Core is part of a national movement to develop standards that will help students compete in the global economy.

Sto-Rox School District, which did not make AYP this year, is rewriting its math curriculum to match the new standards.

“We're hoping our students will do real well,” Sto-Rox Superintendent Michael Panza said.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell's administration began developing the new standards and tests, which are considered more in-depth than the PSSA. Gov. Tom Corbett kept the Keystone Exams to better prepare students for college and the work force, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The Common Core movement is growing despite critics like Bill Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He contends it violates federal law, which prohibits federal involvement in curriculum.

“The Common Core push is an elite effort by people who have wanted national curriculum-content standards since the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.”

Tim Eller disagrees with the thinking that students won't be motivated for the Keystone tests, pointing out that the PSSA wasn't tied to graduation, either. Students often took the PSSA years after learning the material.

“The Keystones are going to be a real challenge for kids,” said Linda Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, which did not make AYP this year. “Kids would say the Keystones are harder.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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