State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester County) introduced legislation in Harrisburg on Wednesday that would exempt Pennsylvania high school students from having to pass standardized tests to graduate.
Starting with the class of 2017, Pennsylvania law dictates that students must show proficiency on Keystone standardized tests in Algebra I, Biology and Language Arts before earning diplomas.
Dinniman said that recent state cuts to classroom education budgets make this requirement an "unfunded mandate" that will simply "stamp failure" on many students coming from impoverished school districts.
Dinniman's proposal, S.B. 1382, would leave graduation requirements up to individual districts.
"If a student is staying in school against the odds — and in very difficult situations with a lot of peer pressure to leave — how is this going to help?" Dinniman asked. "This is going to increase the student dropout rate."
This year's 9th graders are the first to face the graduation requirement. Students can take the pass/fail tests at any point in their high school careers, up to three times each. If students still haven't passed, they can prove competency by completing a project assessment to be judged by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Parents wishing to opt their students out of testing can choose the project assessment at the outset.
Dinniman surveyed superintendents and said he believes more than 100,000 of the state's 830,000 high school school students will likely end up taking the project assessment. Between paying for this, test preparations and the state-mandated remediation for students who fail, Dinniman calculated the endeavour will end up costing districts an additional $300 million in total.
"The Department of Education isn't ready [for this]," said Dinniman. "There's no conceivable way that with this number of students that they're going to be able to process these project assessments."
In the past, the state's acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, has disagreed with Dinniman about these costs. Calls to the department seeking comment for this story were not returned.
Under the law, school superintendents can automatically exempt 10 percent of their students from the testing requirement and can exempt students beyond that if granted state approval.
With this fail-safe included, Dinniman characterizes the requirement as "a farce" that will occupy "undue amounts of hours, focusing on testing and taking away from teaching."