Sunday, October 25, 2009

As Predicted--PA Regulators Approve High School Graduation Competency "Keystone" Exams

In 2005, Governor Rendell established the Commission on College and Career Success (CCCS report) and gave them the responsibility to study and produce recommendations to increase the numbers of Pennsylvanians who earn a diploma indicative of a world-class student ready to graduate from high school and enter the new global economy or prepared to succeed in college. Their primary recommendation was to initiate graduation competency exams throughout the state. In the face of tremendous state-wide opposition, the State Board of Education and Governor's office steadily ran with the idea until it became a sealed deal.

Long story short, when nearly $176 million dollars was contracted to Data Recognition Corporation (not a PA corporation) during a moratorium on the high school exit exams push, it was evident that all votes en route to creating a new state law requiring students to pass graduation competency tests was a done deal long before the state "Independent" Regulatory Review Commission voted 4-1 on October 22, 2009 to approve the Keystone Exams proposal that the State Board of Education has pushed over the past four years. The final leg of this new law includes a review by the attorney general before being published in the Pennslvania Bulletin. Voila. The class of 2015 will be the first to endure the consequences of graduate competency exams.

The CCCS report states that students must move beyond the Information Age and into the Conceptual Age. After all, the The State Department of Education and Governor Rendell, at least via the CCCS's report, do know that Pennsylvania still faces a gaping achievement gap that is no where near being eradicated by 2014, which is the intention of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

The CCCS reports that "persistent (achievement) gaps are ensured by inequity of funding and resources which results in less credentialed teachers in front of our poorest children, larger class sizes and less college counseling for our children of color and less access to higher education for our rural students." What's the plan to eradicate these foundational problems, if, indeed, these are the root causes of the achievement gap? By other indicators, the CCCS's report is rather simplistic in determining the root causes of the achievement gap. For argument sake, take a look at the high achieving, very wealthy Lower Merion School District; its achievement gap is deep and wide even while it doesn't suffer from any of the symptoms CCCS indicates are at the root of the problem.

Perhaps the achievement gap experienced in one of Pennsylvania's highest academic achieving school districts, the Lower Merion School District (LMSD), points to the shallow analysis of the CCCS report when it explains cause of the gap. Nearly 100 percent of Lower Merion's teachers are credentialed, there's a moderate to low student to teacher ratio, it does not subscribe to the Project 720, and the district is one of the wealthiest in the state (2010 budget of nearly $200 million for 6,800 students).

The LMSD achievement gap between PSSA Black and White 11th grade peer test takers during the spring of 2009 is as follows: 54 points in math, 32 points in reading, 56 points in science and 16 points in writing; that number is greater when the comparison is between Black students and 100% proficiency. Money isn't an issue, qualified teachers and class size aren't the problem--WHAT POINT IS THE STATE MISSING! If you're thinking the students are the problem, think again. Schools across the nation are not just closing the gap, they're eliminating them all together.

Bottom line...Priorities are out of order when fixing the roof is more important than solidifying the crumbling foundation upon which it sits.

Keystone Exams---will be written about for years to come because you cannot ensure by them that high school students are prepared to be citizens and workers that the Pennsylvania, national and international economy demands without greater regard and analysis of the varied levels of education (top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top) needed to prepare students to succeed.