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Pennsylvania changing high school graduation requirements

Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 4:21 p.m.
 

Academic standards and high school graduation requirements are changing this year to better ensure Pennsylvania students will graduate college- or career-ready, according to resolutions the state Board of Education passed on Thursday.

At a meeting in Harrisburg, Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said the department will not require schools to use a statewide curriculum or statewide reading lists, national assessments will not be administered to students, and the department will not expand its collection of student and personal family data.

The board added that language “to alleviate concerns raised by lawmakers and the public,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Curriculum and reading lists were always decided at the local level, he said, adding that officials never planned to administer the national Common Core assessments, preferring instead state-developed, end-of-course tests.

Existing data collection pertains only to student eligibility for programs and services such as career and technical education and special education. Eller said the department has no plans to collect any other data from students or their families.

The board also adopted the final implementation schedule for Keystone Exams, which will apply only to public schools. The tests, initiated last year to slowly replace the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, will no longer factor as one-third of a student's course grade.

This year's ninth-grade class — the class of 2017 — will be required to pass tests in Algebra I, biology and literature to graduate. The class of 2019 will be subject to a composition exam, and students graduating in 2020 and beyond face five Keystone Exams, including civics and government.

Dumaresq said the board action advances the process to finalize the Pennsylvania Core Standards and the requirement that students demonstrate proficiency through Keystone, an approved local equivalent or a comparable advanced placement or International Baccalaureate exam to earn a diploma.

Implementing assessments in composition, civics and government is still subject to available state funding, as are five additional unspecified exams.

The board also eliminated the requirement for all students to complete a culminating graduation project.

“If the state changes their standards, we'll raise the bar,” said board member Robert Clanagan of the Woodland Hills School District. “If that means more tests, OK.”

About to complete his fourth term representing Pittsburgh Public Schools, board member Mark Brentley Sr. said he was outspoken against the adoption of Keystone Exams two years ago.

“We have so many people from our local colleges and universities — even some of our retirees — who would have jumped at the chance to put together a local equivalent,” Brentley said. “It's still an option, I guess, but I don't anticipate any changes on our part. Not at this time.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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