Keystone Exams given go-ahead

Keystone Exams are in, senior projects are out.

Proposed changes to state graduation requirements passed March 14 by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education would require students to score proficiently on Keystone Exams to obtain their diplomas.

The exams would feature assessment levels of advanced, proficient, basic and below-basic.

The proposal, which will now move to the Pennsylvania General Assembly for review prior to passage, “requires students to demonstrate proficiency on a Keystone Exam, validated local assessment or a comparable advanced placement/international baccalaureate exam,” a Pennsylvania Department of Education press release said.

The exams are based on guidelines provided under the new Pennsylvania Common Core Academic Standards, also given final board approval last week. The first of the Common Core Standards, providing guidelines English language arts and mathematics, are required to be implemented state-wide by July of this year.

“These rigorous standards will serve as a framework for schools as to what students should be taught and have knowledge of based on grade level,” Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said.

The requirements for proficiency on Keystone Exams will be implemented for the first time with the class of 2017, who will have to obtain proficient scores on three tests; algebra I, biology and literature.

In 2019, a composition exam will be added and in 2020 students will be required to show proficiency on a civics and government exam as well.

The release cited the exams as, “rigorous, end-of-course assessments designed to ensure a student’s mastery of specific academic content.”

A school may offer approved local assessments which conform to state academic standards and meet performance level expectations comparable to a Keystone Exam to satisfy the graduation requirements.

Completion of an international baccalaureate or advanced placement exam including content comparable to a Keystone Exam would satisfy graduation requirements as well.

Keystone exams would be offered at least three times throughout the year and students may take an exam more than once if they score below proficient level.

Students unable to achieve a proficient score on an exam(s) would have the opportunity to supplement their score(s) with an approved, project-based assessment. The project-based assessment must be in line with the content of the exam(s) whose score it supplements. A student must fail to score proficiently on a Keystone Exam(s) to be eligible for a project-based assessment.

The proposal also does away with PSSA testing at the high school level. Students would still take PSSA tests through grade 8, but Keystone Exam scores would replace grade eleven PSSA tests for school evaluation purposes.