Governor Wolf Signs Bill to Delay the Implementation of the Keystone Exams

February 03, 2016

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 880 into law which delays the graduation requirement associated with the state’s end-of-course tests, known as the Keystone Exams, for two years, until the 2018-19 school year. The Keystone exams are intended to ensure that students are prepared for postsecondary education or the 21st century workforce. However, there have been issues with the implementation of the Keystone Exams, and it is prudent to allow more time to evaluate the best options of measuring student success. The Keystone Exams can still be administered in schools, but the results of the exams will not be used as a graduation requirement.

Senate Bill 880, sponsored by Senator Smucker, passed both chambers unanimously and is a bipartisan step forward in ensuring our children are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.

“While we should have high academic and educational standards in the commonwealth, there have been issues with the implementation of the Keystone exams, which is why I am signing a bill to delay their use as a graduation requirement,” said Governor Wolf. “My administration is currently engaging teachers, administrators and students, community leaders, stakeholders and advocates from around the state to develop a comprehensive school accountability system that will support schools and help Pennsylvania students succeed.”

The rationale for a delay in applying Keystone Exams as a statewide graduation requirement is as follows:

• Significantly higher numbers of students are failing to demonstrate proficiency on one or both of the two modules available for each Keystone Exam (Algebra 1, Biology, English/Language Arts) even after a retake.
• School Districts are required to offer “supplemental instruction” to students who fail one or both Keystone Exam modules.
• The alternative method for demonstrating proficiency in the standards is the Project Based Assessment (PBA).
• The PBA was intended and designed primarily as alternative for students who had difficulty with the Keystone testing format, not necessarily for students who had failed to master content.
• Both Supplemental Instruction and the administration and scoring of the PBAs are expensive and time consuming and the high volume of students in the Supplement Instruction/PBA pipeline is overwhelming the capacity of both PDE and school districts to respond.

In addition to delaying the use of Keystone exams as a graduation requirement, the legislation also requires the Department of Education to investigate alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency for graduation beyond just the use of the Keystone Exams and present a report of its findings within six months to the majority and minority chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees.

In preparation for this report, the Department of Education will meet with stakeholders to discuss how to improve the process, examine the necessity of a definition of college and career readiness that all students must meet in order to graduate, and study the graduation requirements of other states.

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