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The Keystone tests are coming in January

By Connie Langland on Dec 3, 2012 05:20 PM

Ready or not (and let’s put the emphasis on not), school districts, including Philadelphia's, are gearing up to implement a new set of standardized tests called the Keystone Exams, which are replacing the 11th-grade PSSAs.

Some districts will administer the tests beginning this week; Philadelphia and other districts will do their testing in mid-January.

And no one, apparently, has confidence in making a strong showing this first go-around.

“There is a lot of concern out there. It’s all new, and schools are trying to figure out what needs to be emphasized in the classroom,” said Jane Wilburne, associate professor of math education at Penn State - Harrisburg and an expert on assessments.

Students who participated in a statewide pilot test of the Keystones last year fared poorly, with less than 39 percent of students scoring proficient or better in algebra, 36 percent in biology and 50 percent in literature. Those results were significantly weaker than how students fared statewide on the 11th-grade math and reading PSSAs that year.

The testing plan calls for all 11th graders to take the first round of the tests in Algebra I, biology and literature. Results will be used to calculate whether schools have met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, just as the PSSAs formerly did.

Then, beginning in spring 2013, the Keystones will transition into exams that students take as they near completion of coursework in the subject being tested, though the teachers probably will be requiring final exams as well. Testing in Philadelphia is scheduled for mid-May.

Students typically will take the Algebra I Keystones their freshman year, biology and literature their sophomore year. Students not achieving proficiency will have multiple chances to retake the test, though after two unsuccessful attempts, students will have the option of doing a project.

The retake opportunities are important: Showing proficiency on the Keystones in the three subject areas will be a graduation requirement, starting with the cohort of students that is now in 8th grade and is slated to graduate in 2017.

Elliott Seif, a curriculum and assessment expert formerly with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, characterizes the Keystones as eventually becoming “high-risk graduation exams” and has lambasted the state Board of Education for implementing them and eliminating the senior-year culminating project.

In Seif’s view, the tests will be burdensome, expensive to administer, redundant and result in students dropping out. “Students may pass an algebra, biology, and/or literature course, wind up with enough credits to graduate, and then not be able to graduate because they fail one or more Keystone exams. Other students may pass the exams, but fail the courses,” he wrote in comments to the board.

The exams, he said, “confuse test proficiency with course proficiency and experiences” and will not improve student graduate rates or success in college.

In the near term, one school official predicted “test fatigue” for both students and teachers.

“In concept, it’s an excellent, high-quality test. … [But] you have an academic target that’s increasing and a measurement that’s changing. It’s a new test with a new level of rigor and a new focus on subjects and [the state] is kind of giving it to us in midair,” Brian Bliss, a Solanco School District official, told the Lancaster County Intelligencer Journal.

Brian Cohen, math teacher at the Academy at Palumbo in South Philadelphia, raised concerns about the upcoming Keystones in remarks to the School Reform Commission. “If the material we’re testing on now [in benchmark assessments] is what we’ll be testing on the Keystones in May, I don’t think many algebra students can pass them,” Cohen said.

So it's likely that Cohen will have to give a final exam. "I doubt the Keystone will match what I think makes sense in terms of algebra teaching and learning," Cohen said. "I don’t think it’s fair to give the Keystone as the final grade for my students.”

He predicted that Philadelphia scores and the state's overall scores will fall precipitously.

There’s one more issue looming: a new state law that rates teachers partly on standardized test results.

“If I can’t get my students prepared for the Keystones,” he fretted, “I’ll just be out of a job.”

Freelancer Connie Langland writes about education issues in Philadelphia.


 

 

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on December 3, 2012 4:27 pm
Brian Cohen is at a very select magnet school. Imagine the predicament of those us at neighborhood high schools? We will be doing no more than getting students "test ready." Then, we'll be told we are lousy teachers because students aren't "test ready."
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 3, 2012 6:23 pm
And how might we be defining "proficient?"
Submitted by Superman (not verified) on December 3, 2012 11:11 pm
You won't be out of a job. There's only one superman. And he can only work at one school (at a time). The rest of the schools in the USA have to settle for excellent people that cannot defy gravity. Your overseers might want you to believe they've got masses of willing bodies able to replace you and do better than you - but if you are at least half-decent you're not easily replaced and in theory you will improve with time. The only thing that worries me from time to time is that school officials might be willing to replace us with warm bodies that aren't as good, just to prove a point.
Submitted by rob (not verified) on December 4, 2012 8:16 am
"Students not achieving proficiency will have multiple chances to retake the test, though after two unsuccessful attempts, students will have the option of doing a project." Is the state going to be responsible for the assigning and grading the 'projects?' Why wouldn't a student, or a school for that matter, opt out of the test and all the test prep time and just opt for the 'project' in the first place?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 4, 2012 9:18 am
If the "project" is anything like the current Senior Project, it will be a joke. There is no uniformity, standards, etc. for the "project." There has to be standards set for "the project" if it is to have any credibility.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 4, 2012 11:01 am
The keystone test will last two years top.Once the Scholars of Lower Merion et al start failing the tests, their parents will suddenly understand how unfair rating kids or schools on one test is. Harrisburg will listen to the suburbs and end the test. The people of Philadelphia are simply ignored when the bring up the same issue. Because was all know the education administrators know what Philly needs not the dumb people living there.
Submitted by Tim Slekar (not verified) on December 4, 2012 1:02 pm
Great point. Opt Out and go for the project.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 4, 2012 2:08 pm
The project is "last resort" is a student is not able to score proficient on a test. You can't "opt out."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 4, 2012 5:37 pm
Yes you can opt out. Federal law allows parents to be the ultimate authority on issues of education. Understand that this is a game rigged to make kids, teachers and schools fail. There is no "proficiency." This is just a stupid descriptor conjured up by political hacks. Anybody (with a background in education) knows that this system was never designed to help kids learn. People with an understanding of education understand that learning is a continual and bumpy process and that proficiency is a bullshit term that means nothing. The "last resort" is OPTING OUT! http://unitedoptout.com/
Submitted by Tim Slekar (not verified) on December 4, 2012 6:10 pm
Yes you can opt out. Federal law allows parents to be the ultimate authority on issues of education. Understand that this is a game rigged to make kids, teachers and schools fail. There is no "proficiency." This is just a stupid descriptor conjured up by political hacks. Anybody (with a background in education) knows that this system was never designed to help kids learn. People with an understanding of education understand that learning is a continual and bumpy process and that proficiency is a bullshit term that means nothing. The "last resort" is OPTING OUT! http://unitedoptout.com/
Submitted by Tim Slekar (not verified) on December 4, 2012 1:43 pm
Some points: 1) National research on "exit exams" (Keystones) continually indicates that they don't increase knowledge in tested subjects. 2) Money spent on the Keystones (the test, test prep, test scoring and test score management) would be better spent on instructional resources. The US spends $1.7 Billion dollars a year on testing (just test manufacturing). This does not include time wasted on test prep, money for scoring, and money for test score management. 3) Over the last 2 years more than $1 billion dollars has been cut from public schools in PA. That means resources that could have been used to actually help students and classroom teachers did not reach them. To test students after denying them classroom resources will skew the results. In other words PA students will score lower on Keystones. This perpetuates the failing public schools false narrative. Example: One Keystone test will test Biology. If we are concerned abut "learning" in Biology we would invest in biology labs and teacher professional development not in testing regimes (Research has shown that investing in learning resources and teacher professional development is the best way to increase deep learning). 4) Local students are actually being denied classroom time in other subjects. Students in Physics classes are being drilled on literacy skills and cramming for the Biology Keystone. This is actually happening and I have talked with parents to verify this information. 5) Some school leaders are not telling parents and students that Keystone scores don't count towards graduation until 2017. This creates stress and anxiety for students and parents because they believe their graduation might be compromised. And this leads to the biggest issue: High stakes tests are invalid measures of learning. Timothy D. Slekar PhD Head of the Division of Education, Human Development and Social Sciences 106 Elm Building Penn State Altoona Altoona, PA 16601 814-949-5639 tds12@psu.edu http://atthechalkface.com/ http://unitedoptout.com/ "NCLB should not be revised. It should be sent to the scrap-heap of history." Diane Ravitch
Submitted by Student At A Philadelphia High School (not verified) on March 23, 2013 9:54 am
I am a student at a special admission high school. The courses i take are preparing me well for college. When my school and others in philadelphia were notified about the replacement of the PSSA's for the Keystone. We were alarmed, and still are because if we do not pass all Keystone testing subjects. We can not graduate. I felt like all my effort and hard work to pass eight classes each year became a joke. The Keystone Reading and Mathematics section, i found good . As for the biology I felt like I was reading another language. As well as for my other class mates in my grade, and word from other high schools as well. A class my grade takes at Freshman yea. A class I thought I was done with since two years. Then I get a test on it my junior year; and let me tell you we failed. And we can not graduate until we pass the subject with proficiency and higher. This is thousands of juniors experiancing this in Philadelphia. What does this mean for us graduating class of 2014? Will 50% of us graduate? Do people see this? Are they blind to the failure? The school system is as bad as it is. Luckily us students still have hope and yearn to do better in the conditions and environment we live in. It is not the worst ever but complete success can not be constantly expected of when success is not even a word used to describe the outcomes of these scores and plans of the school system.
Submitted by Student At A Philadelphia High School (not verified) on March 23, 2013 9:25 am
I am a student at a special admission high school. The courses i take are preparing me well for college. When my school and others in philadelphia were notified about the replacement of the PSSA's for the Keystone. We were alarmed, and still are because if we do not pass all Keystone testing subjects. We can not graduate. I felt like all my effort and hard work to pass eight classes each year became a joke. The Keystone Reading and Mathematics section, i found good . As for the biology I felt like I was reading another language. As well as for my other class mates in my grade, and word from other high schools as well. A class my grade takes at Freshman yea. A class I thought I was done with since two years. Then I get a test on it my junior year; and let me tell you we failed. And we can not graduate until we pass the subject with proficiency and higher. This is thousands of juniors experiancing this in Philadelphia. What does this mean for us graduating class of 2014? Will 50% of us graduate? Do people see this? Are they blind to the failure? The school system is as bad as it is. Luckily us students still have hope and yearn to do better in the conditions and environment we live in. It is not the worst ever but complete success can not be constantly expected of when success is not even a word used to describe the outcomes of these scores and plans of the school system.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 9, 2013 9:53 pm
I took the pssas, and every subject i scored "proficient". Now my school has just started giving out keystones which in my perspective are a lot tougher. My English teacher quit due to another job opening, so me and my fellow class mates were deprived of an English teacher that truly knew what they were doing. Sadly my school said that if you didn't score proficient then you were forced to re-take the class and seek remediation. To me this is unfair and doesn't make much sense to test kids on something they were not taught. This year i scored "basic". Not only that but my class had to take pssas, keystones, and final exams, which to me is getting a little out of control.

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