Subscribe to E-Newsletter November 15, 2013

Dear Friend,

Senator DinnimanPlease take a look at the recent newspaper column I wrote titled, “Keystone Graduation Exams Don’t Make the Grade.” It is included at the end of this e-mail.

If you are concerned about rising property taxes, financially distressed schools, increased standardized testing and the future of education in Pennsylvania, I ask that you join me in opposing the Keystone Graduation Exams.

The Keystones proposal is before the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), which is set to vote on it on Nov. 21. Please let the IRRC and its members know why you are opposed to the Keystone Graduation Exams by 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19. by e-mailing irrc@irrc.state.pa.us.

Already, almost all (58 of the 61) of the superintendents and all four intermediate unit directors serving students and taxpayers in Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, and Bucks counties have expressed their opposition to the Keystone Graduation Exams.

If approved, high school students starting with current freshmen (Class of 2017) will face the possibility of passing all their classes with straight A’s yet failing one of the Keystones and not getting a diploma.

IRRC IRRC If approved, it is conservatively estimated that the exams will result in an unfunded mandate of more than $300 million a year. There is no doubt that that will translate to soaring school property taxes.

Together, we can stop the Keystone Graduation Exams before they fail Pennsylvania, but I need your help. Please contact the IRRC today!

Sincerely,

Andy Dinniman
State Senator - 19th District

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Keystone Graduation Exams Don’t Make the Grade

by State Senator Andy Dinniman, Ed.D.
Minority Chairman, Senate Education Committee

In the name of raising academic standards, the Corbett administration is attempting to implement the Keystone Graduation Exams – high-stakes graduation exams that will result in higher property taxes, less classroom instruction, more “teaching to the test,” and the potential for a generation of students to be branded as failures.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania State Board of Education have proposed the Keystone Graduation Exams to the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which is set to vote on them on Nov. 21.

I encourage you to join me in opposing the Keystone Graduation Exams. Here’s why:

It is fundamentally wrong for three standardized tests to determine a student’s high school graduation, especially when those tests were developed with no input whatsoever from a course teacher or local district. If the Keystone Graduation Exams are approved, high school students starting with current freshmen (Class of 2017) will face the possibility of passing all their classes but failing a Keystone Exam and not getting a diploma.

It is downright irresponsible to implement a program of graduation exams that will result in the largest unfunded mandate in the past 50 years. The proposed Keystone Exams require school districts to provide remediation and supplementary instruction for students who do not pass. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Education provides no funding whatsoever for remediation costs. In fact, the department has the gall to claim that the exams will have no cost to local school districts, even as test results from the summer indicate failure rates as high as 60 percent in Algebra I and Biology and 45 percent in Literature. It is conservatively estimated that the exams will result in an unfunded mandate of more than $300 million a year. It’s no stretch of the imagination to realize that the buck will be passed onto taxpayers in the form of massive school property tax increases.

Meanwhile, financially distressed school districts throughout the state are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. In Philadelphia, for example, schools face class sizes of nearly 50 students, have been forced to close their libraries and even struggle to afford textbooks and basic instructional materials. How can we, in good conscience, spend millions to implement a new testing program – a program that will likely bankrupt our poorest schools?

It just doesn’t make sense for the Pennsylvania Department of Education to continue to expand standardized testing at a time when increasing evidence challenges the notion that it is the best way to gauge student achievement and learning. Already, anywhere from 10 to 20 days (out of a 180-day school year) of instruction time is lost to testing and test preparation. If the Keystone Graduation Exams are approved, an eighth-grade student taking Algebra I would face taking a class test for a class grade, the PSSA Math Test and the Keystone Exam, which would be banked for graduation purposes. The Keystones will only further promote “teaching to the test,” while sacrificing more valuable classroom instruction time to standardization.

It is simply unfair to stamp “failure” on the backs of teachers, schools and communities that lack the fiscal resources to adequately prepare students to pass these exams. Why should we expect students who are set up for failure to stick with the program? And how can we expect to revitalize economically distressed communities when their schools and students are labeled as substandard and second-rate?

There has been no shortage of problems with the proposed Keystone Graduation Exams. The fact that almost all of the superintendents and Intermediate Unit Directors in the Philadelphia suburbs have signed onto a position paper opposing them is a clear indication that something is wrong.

Still, the Corbett administration continues to seek to quickly and quietly push them through. In fact, the Department of Education has repeatedly withheld data that is necessary for weighing the costs to local districts. In response, I have been forced to file seven Right to Know requests in an effort to obtain exam results and breakdowns by individual school district, as well as information regarding the potential costs or estimates of such remediation. Keep in mind, such costs will weigh heavier on lower-performing and financially distressed school districts as they face a higher potential for students requiring remediation.

I ask that you stand with me in opposing the Keystones. I urge you to write or e-mail the IRRC and ask its members to reject the Keystone Graduation Exams (part of the proposed Chapter 4 Final-Form Regulations). Public comment must be received at least 48 hours prior to the IRRC’s Thursday, Nov. 21 meeting – in other words, by 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Your comments will become part of the public record and will be reviewed by the five IRRC commissioners. To submit your comments by e-mail, send to IRRC Executive Director David Sumner at dsumner@irrc.state.pa.us. To submit by mail, send to

Independent Regulatory Review Commission
David Sumner, Executive Director
333 Market Street, 14th Floor
Harrisburg, Pa. 17101

You also have a right to testify at the IRRC’s Nov. 21 meeting, which will begin at 10 a.m. and take place in Room NOB 1 in the Main Capitol’s North Office Building. It is recommended that those planning to testify contact the IRRC by e-mail, letter or phone (717-783-5506) ahead of time. For more information, visit my website, www.senatordinniman.com.

The Keystone Graduation Exams don’t cut it. They don’t make the grade. In fact, they flat-out fail – they fail students, they fail teachers, they fail schools and they fail local taxpayers. Let’s stop them before they fail Pennsylvania.

 

Offices of State Senator Andy Dinniman

www.senatordinniman.com

 

District Office
One North Church Street
West Chester, PA 19380
Phone: 610.692.2112
Fax: 610.436.1721
Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Harrisburg Office
Senate Box 203019
183 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3019
Phone: 717.787.5709
Fax: 717.787.4384

 
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