Parkland High School juniors join other 11th-graders throughout Pennsylvania in taking the new Keystone Exams in biology, algebra 1 and literature. This week they take biology and literature and algebra 1 is scheduled for mid January.
Gov. Tom Corbett has supported the Keystone Exams over the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) as a way to ensure students are better prepared for college and the work force. The new tests start with the class of 2014 but results will not held against them.
The scores, however, will be incorporated into the district’s No Child Left Behind ratings. It is not yet known if juniors will also have to take PSSAs in the spring. The U.S. Department of Education has not approved the Keystone Exams as an alternative to PSSAs but administrators believe it won't be a problem because other states have had end-of-the year course exams approved for accountability.
Assistant Superintendent Rod Troutman told Parkland School Directors recently that many students have been taking refresher courses in preparation for the tests because they completed the classes in eighth and ninth grades.
“We are helping to refresh kids in study hall sessions and with online materials,” Troutman said. “If they don’t pass, they can take it again in May.”
For now, the district is absorbing the costs associated with getting students up to speed in these three subjects.
Current eighth-graders, or those in the class of 2017, will be the first to have to pass Keystone exams in order to graduate. They will take the first three Keystone exams in algebra 1, biology and literature.
Each year more tests in other subjects will be added. Current fifth-graders will be the first Pennsylvania students required to pass Keystone exams in algebra 1, biology, literature, composition, civics and government.
If students don’t pass a test after the course is completed, they can re-take it as many times as it is offered through their junior year. Students with Individual Education Plans or IEPs must make at least one attempt to take the exams. If they are unsuccessful, they would participate in a Project Based Assessment (PBA), Troutman said.
Each year, the superintendent will be able to ask the state Department of Education for a waiver for up to 10 percent of students who don’t pass their PBA.
“This is essentially putting a limit on something I don’t know if we can control,” Troutman said.
To meet new demands, Troutman said, the district is planning to make instructional shifts, focus on rigor and depth-of-knowledge questions, and provide supplementary instruction and preparation for PBAs.