Standardized Keystone Exams face elimination under proposal
A reprieve from standardized testing could be in sight for the state's students.
Lawmakers are considering a bill — sponsored by the minority chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Chester County Democrat Andrew Dinniman — that seeks to end the Keystone Exams and replace them with the SAT.
“It's to end high-stakes testing, because there are many bright students who do well in courses but simply can't take tests,” Dinniman said.
The bill would eliminate the Keystone Exams, which are administered in algebra I, literature and biology. It also would end the use of any graduation exams in the state.
Local districts would be allowed to determine criteria for graduation, but they would not be allowed to use a single test or series of tests to determine whether a student can graduate, Dinniman said.
He added that graduation requirements should look at a student's body of coursework.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education requires 21 credits across various subject areas for graduation.
Keystone Exams and project-based assessments were added as a state graduation requirement in 2014. As of 2016, those requirements were put on hold until the 2018-19 school year while the education department and lawmakers evaluate improved requirements.
Under the new system, students would be required to take the SAT only to fulfill federal requirements for data reporting.
That would still be better than taking the Keystones, Dinniman said. He said it would benefit students because colleges and employers are likely to look at SAT scores.
In addition, the cost of purchasing the SAT exams and preparation materials is likely to be cheaper than the materials associated with the Keystones, Dinniman said.
In June, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that makes accommodations for students in career and technical education, or CTE, schools when it comes to the Keystones.
Introduced in December by Reps. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, and Mike Tobash, R-Pottsville, the change allows high school students in vocation and technical programs to demonstrate competency through their grades and industry-based certification.
Examples include national certification and licensing tests for nursing, auto repair and cosmetology.
Principals across the state are happy to have more flexibility with these exams, said Mark Korcinsky, Pennsylvania state coordinator for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
“The testing itself consumes a lot of instructional time,” Korcinsky said, noting also that requirements that determine testing logistics put a strain on a district's staffing, scheduling and finances.
In addition, exams that measure a student's performance and improvement over time would give teachers a better understanding of what a student knows.
“They're looking for multiple points of measure that they can use to assess proficiency, but more importantly, growth,” Korcinsky said.
The Keystones are administered in the spring, but results are often not returned to schools until after the start of the following school year. As a result, Korcinsky said, it's difficult to follow up with students who didn't perform well and ensure they're getting the right support.
But changing the way the state's standardized tests are administered isn't as easy as swapping one test for another or eliminating the exams altogether.
This summer, Pennsylvania must submit a new education plan to the federal government that outlines how the state will measure things such as student achievement and teacher performance.
Student performance on standardized tests such as the Keystones is linked to teacher evaluations.
This is something some public school advocates hope will change as the Legislature considers alternatives to the Keystones.
Standardized tests such as the Keystones do not offer an even playing field by which to measure teacher performance, said Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
Districts often have varying means and resources to prepare students to perform well on the exam, he said.
The organization is in favor of eliminating the Keystones as a federal accountability test and agrees that the SAT, typically taken during a student's junior year, could be a suitable alternative.
“We would like to see the Keystones and the PSSAs reduced in the amount of time needed for kids to take the test,” DiRocco said. “We just think that there's too much testing time going on.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.