School officials raise concerns of new state graduation requirements

By Ginger Dunbar, Daily Local News, 04/24/14

DOWNINGTOWN – During a briefing Thursday concerning the new state Keystone Exam regulations, a panelist of superintendents, state legislators and others shared their concerns, including costs to schools, time away from classrooms and parents’ lack of awareness of the graduation requirement.

The panelist members, from Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties, focused on the new requirements of all students to pass the Keystone Exams in Algebra I, Biology and Language Arts in order to graduate from high school. This requirement, which was implemented in March, will affect the class of 2017, students who are currently in ninth grade.

The panelist discussed how additional preparation time for students who failed the Keystone Exams will take more class time away from students who need to retest in order to graduate. Students can take the exams an unlimited number of times in order to pass.

West Chester Area School District Superintendent James Scanlon said he doesn’t believe that parents understand how this could affect students. He said students may be pulled out of their elective courses to have more time to prepare for retaking an exam.

Max Kneis, a senior at Henderson High School, said it’s stressful, even scary, for students to get their SAT scores back. He said by tying the Keystone Exams to graduation requirements, it’s “pushing that test anxiety even sooner.”

As an example, he said that he would not have the same opportunity he is seeking next year at the University of Pittsburgh, if he failed the exams. He said freshmen in high school may not understand the seriousness that the exams could affect their graduation.

School District of Haverford Township Superintendent William Keilbaugh showed visuals of how many school days were dedicated to the Keystone exams, from preparation to testing time. In the 2011-12 academic year, the Delaware County district used 45 days for the exams. In 2012-13, he said the school had 106 days, or roughly 24 percent of the school year, used in connection with the exams.

“Is it rational?” he asked repeatedly as he added that “time is instruction.”…

read more at Daily Local News

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Anticipation: November WCASD Board meeting

Two excerpts from A View from the Cheap Seats, 28 Nov 2013

Approval of a Resolution Opposing High School Graduation requirements: The resolution to oppose Keystone Exams in Algebra, Biology and English Composition as a graduation requirement was officially approved and will be sent to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), PA Department of Education and the PA General Assembly. As most of you are aware, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted, 3-2, on 11/21 to approve the use of Keystones as graduation requirements, but WCASD will go on record as voicing their opposition to these requirements and we salute them for doing so. Thanks to everyone who heeded the call and contacted the IRRC to voice their concerns. Special thanks to WCASD Board member Sue Tiernan for hauling herself to Harrisburg for the 4 hour plus meeting to provide public comment on behalf of our district.

Noting the overwhelming amount of public comment on the IRRC website conveying opposition to the use of Keystones as graduation requirements – not to mention those opposed to PA Core Standards- you may be asking yourself how this happened. How is it that five people, two appointed by House and Senate Democrats, two appointed by House and Senate Republicans, and one Governor-appointee, have the final word on using the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements? How is it that parent/taxpayer letters, school board resolutions, and superintendents’ position letters carry such little weight for these five people? How is it that the PA Department of Education/State Board of Education can confidently promise producing a new and improved college-and-career ready student, yet cannot come up with a more creative and equitable way to assess our schools, teachers and students than through the continued use of high-stakes testing? Discouraged? In times like these, we recommend finding some comfort in the inspiring national grassroots movements to end high-stakes testing at United Opt Out. …

Charter School report: Mrs. Tiernan takes the hints dropped by Mrs. Snook, fleshes them out and leads us from the tunnel of obscurity to the light of clarity. In recounting her attendance at the 11/21 IRRC hearing, she reminds us that the costs of remediation associated with the Keystone Exams for WCASD are between $366-498,000/year. Mrs. Tiernan continues, informing us that SB 1085 is out of committee and PSBA continues to work with legislators to attempt to craft a better version of this charter/cyber reform bill. During its time in the Appropriations Committee, SB 1085 did see some changes to the pension piece and (surprise) added a provision to form a commission to study the issue. Opposition to the bill still exists from public education and charter/cyber advocates. Check out Education Law Center and PA Families for Public Cyber Schools for arguments and keep an eye out for action/inaction in Harrisburg in the few session days left before the holidays….

read the full WCV post on the November 25 WCASD board meeting at A View from the Cheap Seats

Keystone exams fail Pa. students

by Andy Dinniman, Philly.com, 11/18/13

Though controversial, I believe the new Pennsylvania Core Standards (Common Core) are a positive step for education. However, in the false name of raising academic standards and accountability, the Corbett administration is attempting to assess these new standards through the Keystone Graduation Exams, which will result in higher property taxes, less classroom instruction, more “teaching to the test,” and the potential for a generation of students to be branded as failures.

The state Department of Education and the state Board of Education have proposed the exams to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which is set to vote on them on Thursday.

I encourage you to join me in opposing the exams. Here’s why:

It is fundamentally wrong for three standardized tests to determine a student’s high school graduation. If the Keystone exams are approved, high school students starting with the Class of 2017 will face the possibility of passing all their classes with straight A’s yet failing one of the Keystones and not getting a diploma.

It is also irresponsible to implement a program of graduation exams that will result in the largest unfunded mandate in the past 50 years. The Keystone exams require school districts to provide remediation and supplementary instruction for students who do not pass. However, the state Department of Education provides no funding for remediation costs. In fact, the department claims that the exams will have no cost to school districts, even as statewide test results indicate that remediation and supplemental instruction will be required by more than one-third of students in algebra I, more than half in biology, and a fourth in literature. The exams and their required remediation could result in an unfunded mandate of more than $300 million a year. In fact, the West Chester Area School District estimates that remediation for the biology exam alone will cost local taxpayers about $250,000.

These costs will be passed on to taxpayers in the form of massive school property tax increases….

Read more at Philly.com

WCASD Board Joins 53 Other Local Districts in Opposition to Keystone Exams as Graduation Requirement

email from WASD superintendent Jim Scanlon, 11/17/13

WCASD Board Joins 53 Other Local Districts in Opposition to Keystone Exams as Graduation Requirement

As you may be aware, Keystone Exams are on track to be a graduation requirement for the current freshman class in all Pennsylvania schools. Under laws that are making their way through the legislature, students will have to pass a state-designed test in Algebra 1, English composition, and Biology in order to receive a high school diploma.  Like many surrounding school districts, the West Chester Area School Board will be passing a resolution at its November Board meeting in opposition of using Keystone Exams as graduation requirements. The administration and Board are joining with 53 superintendents from the four-county region to express opposition to this requirement, because we feel graduation requirements should be determined by local school boards and not by a high-stakes test developed by the state.

The final step of the approval process that will require Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement involves a review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC). Although the IRRC has no formal power to block implementation of new regulations, the Committee may interject questions and comments that could cause the State Board of Education to reconsider its position.

…Attached is the resolution to be placed on the WCASD School Board agenda as well as the four-county superintendent letter. 

Thanks for supporting our schools and our ability to keep graduation requirements at the local level.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jim Scanlon
Superintendent

Download the proposed resolution here: WCASD Resolution – Keystone Exams 11.25.2013 – FINAL

Download the 4-county superintendents’ Nov. 5 letter to IRRC here: IRRC Superintendent Keystone Letter_11_04_13