Monday, April 27, 2009

High School Graduation Requirements Updated--Keystone Exams 2.0

"The problem you've got is districts aren't doing as well as they might in getting kids educated well. If you suddenly implement high-stakes exams and kids can't graduate, you're penalizing the kids for the failures of the school system,"
Dr. Alan Lesgold, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education

There's an ongoing dialogue/debate about high school graduation requirements between the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Governor Edward Rendell's office, the Congressional Senators/Representatives who serve on respective Education Committees, the union organizations for both teachers and school board members, and member organizations of the recently formed organization called The Coalition for Effective and Responsive Testing (CERT) comprised of several organizations including the Parent Teacher Association and the Pennsylvania NAACP.

Should students be required to prove a level of proficiency in mathematics, reading, writing, science, and social studies before being granted a "meaningful" high school diploma?

The agency argument goes something like this...the costs for testing and remediation would be in the millions and a tremendous burden to school districts particularly in a national recession, not to mention the pressure on teachers to actually ensure that beginning with the graduation class of 2015 students are educated when the Keystone Exam 1.0 kicks into effect that year subsequent to the failed or successful No Child Left Behind goal of educating most of America's students to a level of proficiency in mathematics, reading, writing, and science. Of course, students who fall below proficiency in any of those core content courses would risk failing to graduate from high school and all the consequences that come with it unless they have been identified by a learning disability (like being below proficient in reading or math) and receive academic support through "special education" services.

In early March 2009, several government agencies and organizations morphed the so called Graduation Competency Assessments into the Keystone Exams, which were variations on the theme of state-mandated assessments high schoolers would be required to pass in order to graduate with a regular high school diploma (others could graduate below proficiency with a special education diploma).
Further morphing involves the evolution of the Keystone 1.0 into the Keystone 2.0, which was crafted and agreed upon by CERT members. The Keystone 2.0 shifts from accountability to being not more than a Pennsylvania Department of Education created final course exam minus the exorbitant expenses to school districts or the burden to hold anyone responsible for academic success and ensuring that high school students graduate educated and prepared for the rigors of college, a career or the workforce. In effect, the Keystone Exams would not be a high-stakes exit exam and passing them would not be a state graduation requirement since PDE would create an exam that students would take at the end of a course and would count for 20% of their final grade.
“We appreciate that the coalition has kept the dialogue open concerning the need for these high-stakes exams. However, at a time when our state is facing a $2.6 billion and growing deficit, we believe there is no need for these additional, costly tests. The last thing that we need in this budget is new spending."
Joint Statement from Senator Orie and Rep. Saylor On Alternative Graduation Tests - aka Keystone Exams 2.0 Wednesday April 22, 2009

Whew...that took the steam out of that effort to require high school graduation competency exams in Pennsylvania. Powerful lobbyists!
The CERT group includes:
American Federation of Teachers--PA, Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, Pennsylvania Association of Pupil Service Administrators (special education), Pennsylvania Middle School Association, Pennsylvanias for the Educaton of Gifted Students, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania PTA (No PTA where I live), Pennsylvania NAACP (hmmm, wonder who they spoke with?)
"I applaud PSEA's willingness to join this discussion and look forward to studying the proposal. I worry deeply about the implications of one aspect of their plan. When you cap the weight of the Keystone final exam at no more than 20 percent of a student's grade, you lose the assurance that any student in any school is actually able to show they are meeting high school academic standards in English, math, science or social studies."
Chief among proponents of the Keystone Exam 1.0 version, state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak

Stay tuned. They're not done yet!