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Requiring Pa. standardized test to graduate high school derided as 'unfunded mandate'

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on May 28, 2014 04:21 PM

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."

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Comments (13)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 28, 2014 5:29 pm
It is not an unfunded mandate. It is the precursor to the introduction of Charter Schools in the Suburbs. Right now the parents in those districts are pretty happy with the schools. The Keystones will show them they are wrong and the solution is to get your kid in a new charter and to abandon the dumb kids in the wreckage of public education. That way the charter operators can hand out even bigger campaign contributions.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 7:12 pm
Exactly correct. It's this combined with SB 1085 aka No Charter Left Behind (NCLB) that will be used to try to shove charters down the throats of suburban parents. They're going to use this as a weapon against the middle-income suburbs first since they'll have higher failure rates than the higher-income suburban districts. I'm hoping suburban parents stand up and fight. I'm not sure if they will.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on May 29, 2014 9:11 am
Damn, Poogie. I like your focus and accuracy. When will we wake up the people?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 7:14 pm
If you can't pass the Keystones you really shouldn't be able to graduate from high school. They are not particularly difficult. Yet, even with teaching to the test, we still have most students failing it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 8:38 pm
If most students are failing it than it must be a difficult test. The students are being set up to fail along with the schools. This legislation is being brought up because the kids in the suburbs are failing the test as well.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 8:53 pm
Maybe. I definitely see in my school that my students have potential. Yet, they are incredibly lazy. I give them work and they complain and won't do it until I begin to fail them. Then when I start failing them, administrators intervene and say I can't fail them. The kids catch on quickly and realize they don't have to work and they can do the minimum and pass. They also think I'm more difficult than other teachers. My tests are not too difficult for my students but they are too difficult if my students refuse to study. My worry is that we're letting mediocrity become the standard here just because we dislike standardized tests.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 28, 2014 9:27 pm
You have a good point. As soon as the kids found out the graduation mandate did not apply to them they gave up. No reason to waste any more effort than is the absolute minimum to sustain life. But most students in the Philadelphia School district have been taught from birth that the way to get ahead is to do as little as possible. There is nothing to be gained by work. You have to figure out a way to game the system with as little expended effort as possible. Yet the teacher is at fault for the failure and the Charter school entrepreneur picks up the education tax money and pockets a nice chunk of it.
Submitted by Dave M (not verified) on May 29, 2014 7:15 am
I'm curious how you do you know that they are not particularly difficult? Have you sat down and taken one?
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on May 29, 2014 7:18 am
Will they also require non-public schools to take these exams? If it is a state requirement for graduation, it should be required of every school system, including private and sectarian. Just as all have to pass the same required driving tests to get a license to drive or the same marriage license to get married, every child in the commonwealth should be required by law to take the same test for a valid diploma. Also, every legislator who wants to vote for these tests, should be required to pass them.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on May 29, 2014 9:34 am
The last line is the best. A former National High School Principal of the Year testified to the Pennsylvania State Legislature at the beginning of this testing fiasco. Can you guess how many correct answers the State Legislators could answer from the 5th grade PSSA test? Zero. Our talents and passions are as diverse as the universe. This must end.
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on May 29, 2014 11:02 am
Thanks, Morrie. Your last line is the best. All of knowledge does not boil down to a few algebra problems or the cross section of a fishbone. In fact what makes this test especially unfair is that so many budget cuts have made teaching science extremely difficult in many districts, including Philadelphia. Without equipment, science is simply rote learning. If you look at who is behind these tests, it is usually a publisher looking to make a killing. Not only with testing materials but all the test prep materials. Teaching to the test is not teaching.
Submitted by Alan Peterson (not verified) on May 29, 2014 11:27 am
That's right it is essential to pass all the driving test for the driving and same happen will be for the marriage. In the common health program, every person has to take test for the diploma.
Submitted by History teacher (not verified) on May 29, 2014 2:26 pm
I came here from Ohio and they had just introduced (about 2004) the Ohio Graduation Test that was 4 subjects (Math, US History, Englsh and Bio). There are now debates about ending it because of the costs. I also remember the first year they field tested them, the had to drop the scores because students across the state weren't passing it where predicted I was told by a former professor of mine also that they are beginning to track student scores back to teacher prep programs, which has come up in conversations in PA now. But yet PDE/SDP has decided not to add any other subjects but yet tie our evaluations to test scores. I don't know, maybe the state's strategy is to keep the union busy fighting so many different fire, they'll never be able to put one completely out.

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