NOTE: This press release contains updated information as of June 16, 2015.
WEST CHESTER (June 16) – State Senator Andy Dinniman and his colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate today unanimously approved legislation to delay the graduation requirement associated with the Keystone Exams for two years.
“After three years of hard work, I’m delighted to say that the Senate today passed Senate Bill 880 to delay the Keystone Graduation Exams for two years. The Keystones as graduation requirements are neither fiscally responsible nor educationally sound. This legislation will provide much-needed time to review the exams and come up with better means of assessment,” Dinniman said.
Under current regulation, high school students beginning with the class of 2017 (rising juniors) will have to pass Keystone Exams in three subject areas (Algebra I, Biology and Literature) in order to earn a diploma. While the three exams are required by the federal government for evaluative purposes, education officials in the previous administration arbitrarily tied them to high school graduation.
Senate Bill 880 calls for delaying the requirement until the 2018-2019 school year, meaning it would affect incoming freshman. The bill aims to give the legislature additional time to resolve some of the unanticipated consequences of the Keystones implementation, including how to effectively administer and fund project-based assessments for students who do not pass the exams.
Under current law, students who fail the exams twice are entitled to supplemental instruction and have the option of taking a project-based assessment under a teacher’s supervision. However, the Department of Education has yet to provide adequate instruction or resources to school districts on how to staff the project-based assessments.
Senate Bill 880 was introduced by Senator Lloyd Smucker, majority chair of the Senate Education Committee and co-sponsored by Dinniman, the minority chair. It passed the Senate Education Committee last week and now goes to the House for consideration.
In April, Dinniman introduced his own legislation, Senate Bill 838, calling for a moratorium on the use of the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement while the Basic Education Funding Commission continues its efforts to make recommendations to the General Assembly for a fair funding formula. Although that bill gained momentum, including support from 30 co-sponsors, Dinniman threw his support behind Senate Bill 880 last week, saying it currently represents the best vehicle to put the graduation requirements on hold and give the legislature a chance to develop quality, educationally-sound assessments.
“While I would have liked to see the use of high-stakes graduation exams completely eliminated in our schools, legislatively that was not possible,” he said. “Regardless, I am proud to have Senate Bill 838 linked with Senate Bill 880, as we now have a golden opportunity to return the focus of education to teaching instead of testing. I expect there to be strong support in the House and look forward to its passage.”
Dinniman who began leading the opposition to the Keystone Graduation Exams three years ago said it was rewarding to see members from both sides of the aisle support the legislation for the good of students, families and schools.
“This marks a crucial first step in reevaluating and rolling back the make-or-break graduation exams that were put in place by the previous administration,” he said. “I voted against the Keystone Graduation Exams as a member of the state Board of Education back in 2012. We said then that standards without the resources to support them were not only unfair to students, but also put an unmanageable financial burden on school districts. Today we have united to ensure that our message is loud and clear and that the legislature reasserts its role in the process.”