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Keystone Exam forms are blamed for incomplete profile woes

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

Educators and state officials agree Keystone Exams were the culprit in Friday's incomplete online release of the Department of Education's new school assessment system.

Thousands of students, proctors and administrators statewide failed to check the correct box that would indicate whether a student took the test for course credit or to meet federal requirements.

Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq said the state shares the blame for those errors by failing to more clearly outline how to fill out test forms.

School Performance Profiles, the model approved to replace Adequate Yearly Progress goals mandated by No Child Left Behind, were delayed twice as state officials struggled to make corrections and verify basic, building-specific data. Pending those changes, more than 20 percent of the state's 3,000 schools requested that their data and test scores remain suppressed.

“Keystone was a problem, definitely, but they screwed up numbers as simple as how many kids we have in the building, too,” Plum Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said. “When we reported their errors, they told us our complaints were ‘unjustified.' They barely answer the phones as it is. They just didn't want to deal with us.”

Plum and more than 600 schools statewide chose to exclude data for their middle and high schools. Education Department spokesman Tim Eller reported last week that 1,444 other schools requested minor corrections.

“I estimate as many as 25 percent of our students were miscoded, and those are just the schools who saw their scores and decided to fight,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

In development for more than three years, School Performance Profiles feature a score for every school — from zero to 100, or up to 107 with extra credit. Depending on grade level, Keystone Exams account for up to 90 percent of a school's profile score.

“I believe there are many more who saw positive overall scores and decided they don't want to rock the boat,” Buckheit said.

Pennsylvania introduced Keystone Exams two years ago for biology, Algebra I and literature as end-of-course exams rather than the generic 11th-grade test mandated under its former model, the Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment.

The Education Department originally vowed to phase in Keystones, but a budget crunch last year prompted state officials to replace the exams at once.

All high school juniors took the three Keystone tests, even those who had not completed the corresponding courses — many solely to fulfill “adequate yearly progress” requirements still in place prior to federal approval of the No Child Left Behind waiver request in September.

“So whether you were in trigonometry, geometry or intro to algebra, if you were a junior, you took the test,” Buckheit said. “With AYP gone, that shouldn't happen again, but since every student in the state has to take them before they graduate, it could.”

Nearly every high school and some middle schools in Western Pennsylvania excluded themselves from the website's debut. New data will be released in January, Dumaresq said, noting that future Keystone editions will feature more prominent instructions for which boxes to check. Dumaresq is scheduled to hold a news conference on Tuesday to answer questions about the School Performance Profiles release.

Larry Robb, program director at Freeport Area School District, said he knew the changes were coming. The district adjusted its high school curriculum to require biology for all 10th-graders so students will be prepared for the Keystone biology exam, he said.

Alexis Trubiani, spokeswoman for Clairton City School District, blamed the state.

The Carlynton School District joined with its neighbors to schedule a handful of delayed school days so teachers and administrators can review the school's performance data as a group.

“Even with the glitches of releasing information, this is a much more equitable and robust way to access school district performances,” said Scott Koter, Kiski Area assistant superintendent.

Megan Guza, Pat Cloonan, Jodi Weigand and Mary Ann Thomas contributed to this report. 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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