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State Democrats ask Corbett to scrap Keystone Exams as graduation requirement

| Monday, May 13, 2013, 2:03 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Senate Democrats want Gov. Tom Corbett's administration to halt the use of Keystone Exams as a high school graduation requirement.

Democrats say it is a $300 million mandate that does not provide school districts with adequate financial resources to implement it.

“The implementation of these new standards should be reviewed thoroughly by the General Assembly,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said on Monday at a news conference. “This whole new testing structure will cost taxpayers dearly, and it is being implemented without a full understanding of the benefits for students, teachers, administrators and taxpayers.”

Corbett's office referred comment to the Department of Education.

Tim Eller, Department of Education press secretary, said the department doesn't believe there will be a significant cost for schools administering the test because of changes to remove requirements such as a student graduation project and district strategic planning stipulations.

“Those requirements are lifted, so it's kind of a shift instead of an additional requirement,” he said.

The exams assess students' proficiency in multiple subjects and are one component of the state's graduation requirements.

Democrats said the mandate violates a legislative agreement that the Keystone Exams would count for only a third of a student's subject grade. The agreement was not written into law but understood when the Keystone Exams were introduced in 2010 to replace the 11th grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test, said Sen. Andrew Dinniman, ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee.

“For the commonwealth to increase standards without the adequate fiscal resources is a charade,” said Dinniman, D-Chester County. “It is a sham that will only lead to false hope.”

The agreement limiting the impact of the Keystone Exams occurred during the Rendell administration, Eller said.

Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, has proposed a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to assess student testing.

“School districts like Reading are drowning in red ink,” Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, said. “These new mandates … will make their financial plight even worse.”

Megan Rogers is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.

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