Reprinted with permission

By Chris Comisac, Bureau Chief, Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (April 4) – The seesaw that is public education policy could soon be sawing back to where it was, roughly, pre-Keystone Exams.

Yes, lawmakers postponed (twice) the effective date of a requirement that all students pass the Keystone Exams in Literature, Algebra I and Biology in order to graduate, but it’s still on the books (currently scheduled to become effective with the 2019-20 school year) unless state law is changed.

And that appears to be exactly what state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-Delaware, would like to do with legislation that he’ll soon introduce.

“With the delay in the Keystone Exam graduation requirement set to expire in the 2019-20 school year, schools are uncertain about how to plan programming,” writes McGarrigle in a co-sponsorship memo which he began circulating last month for his bill.

Calling the current requirements “inflexible and ill-conceived expectations,” he says his legislation won’t reinstate the Keystone Exam graduation requirement, but instead “in any school year in which proficiency on Keystone Exams is required for high school graduation, my bill will provide students with several alternative pathways to demonstrate postsecondary readiness.”

In essence, it makes the Keystone Exams mostly irrelevant, as it seeks to allow students to both meet local grade-based requirements and demonstrate competency through completion of one of several pathways: passing all three Keystone Exams; passing a variety of alternate assessments (such as a subject-specific advanced placement, international baccalaureate, or an armed services vocational aptitude test), gaining acceptance in a registered apprenticeship program after graduation, or attainment of a career readiness certificate (for career and technical education students); or presenting at least three approved pieces of “rigorous and compelling” evidence relating to a student’s postsecondary or career objectives that reflect readiness for graduation.

While it’s as yet unclear what statewide standards might be applied to some of those pathways, the proposal has already gotten the support of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (the state’s largest teachers’ union) and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

“I applaud Sen. McGarrigle for recognizing that more work needs to be done and more options need to be available to all students,” said PSEA President Dolores McCracken in a statement Tuesday. “Proposals like his recognize that student achievement cannot be measured by a single, high-stakes test. Each day, students are working toward their individual career goals, and each student’s academic record reflects incredible, unique accomplishments which should not be ignored.”

Describing the education strategies used by public schools as “rigorous,” PSBA Chief Executive Officer Nathan G. Mains said McGarrigle’s proposal “recognizes the need for allowing various assessments and pieces of evidence to be used to show proficiency in the knowledge and skills relevant to students’ individual career pathways.”

“Additionally, students too often lose valuable instructional time to repeat standardized testing and remediation which may not have a bearing on their post-graduation goals and preparation,” said Mains, arguing the proposed changes “are necessary to finally give clear direction and stability to our schools and children regarding graduation requirements.”

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