Members of the state House of Representatives’ Democratic Policy Committee listened intently to testimony around the Keystone Graduation Requirement examination.
Highly respected and recognized people in education testified last Monday afternoon before members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Democratic Policy Committee at Northley Middle School in Aston. The topic was graduation requirements and high school testing.
Discussion centered around the Keystone Graduation Requirement, originally set to take effect with the Class of 2017, but with the passage of HB 880 in February, implementation of the requirement was delayed until the 2018-2019 school year.
The graduation requirement would make it necessary for all high school seniors in Pennsylvania to take and pass Algebra I, Biology, and Language Arts tests to earn a diploma, but it has come under scrutiny by educators, school board members, parents and students.
Hosted by state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-161), the hearing included testimony by Matt Stern, deputy secretary for the PA Dept. of Education’s (PDE) Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; Dr. George Steinhoff, superintendent of the Penn-Delco School District; Jerry Oleksiak, president of the PA State Education Association (PSEA); Jon Callahan, assistant executive director, PA School Boards Association; Lawrence Feinberg, founder and co-chair, Keystone Education Collation and Donna Cooper, executive director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
Steinhoff told the committee that, over the years. he has received countless complaints about standardized examinations and is pleased that lawmakers listened and voted to put the Keystone Graduation Requirement Exam on hold.
“To be clear, I believe the original goals that preceded the development of the Keystone exams my have had merit, but somewhere along the way those goals morphed into a requirement that runs counter to the needs of students, gets in the way of the necessary preparation for college and career success, and inhibits our ability to develop the skills that colleges and the business community desire from our graduates,” Steinhoff said. “The Keystone Graduation Requirement should not come back to Pennsylvania.”
Stern said as part of the passage of HB 880, his department was instructed to investigate alternative options for the state level graduation requirement and provide recommendations to the General Assembly.
He discussed four options for students to demonstrate post secondary readiness. They could achieve an identified composite score based on performance on the three subject matters; achieve equivalent scores on standards-based matter content areas in one of the alternate assessments approved by the PDE; demonstrate competency through course grades or assessments, plus for those identified as career and technical students, demonstrate evidence of readiness via the National Occupancy Competency Testing Institute, National Institute of Metalworking Skills assessments or competency certificates; or demonstrate competency through course grades or assessments plus evidence related to post secondary plans that demonstrate a readiness to engage in those plans.
Oleksiak stressed that “students are more than a test score.”
“High-stakes graduation exams divert scarce resources away from standard-based instruction and a full, rich curriculum that brings the focus on test prep and remediation,” Oleksiak said. “High-stakes testing can trap a student in remediation even if that student passed all required courses and earned all credits for graduation that have been established by their local school district. Students may have to drop electives in art and music, which sometimes are the courses that keep them most engaged school.”
He continued, the PSEA is not arguing that Pennsylvania’s high academic standards be revised nor that the tests should disappear completely.
“What should go away, however, is using the Keystone Exams as a high-stakes test to bar otherwise successful students from earning a high school diploma,” Oleksiak said.
Callahan discussed the financial impact of testing, provided fact-based studies that prove high stakes testing increases drop-out rates and does not prepare students for college success.
“The state needs to provide local school districts with maximum flexibility to make educationally sound decisions that expand opportunities for students, without an over-reliance on standardized test scores, high-stakes tests and narrowing of the curriculum or prescriptive mandates,” Callahan said.
Cooper suggested using the testing to account for a substantial portion of the graduation requirement, but not in it’s entirety.
“Such an approach preserves local control, allows for flexibility and sends the right signals that our students and schools must know more than book knowledge to be good parents, employees and good citizens,” she said.