WEST CHESTER (January 20) – State Senator Andy Dinniman and his colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate today concurred to Senate Bill 880, legislation to delay the graduation requirement associated with the Keystone Exams for two years.

The bill will now go to Governor Wolf for his signature. He has indicated that he will sign it into law.

Dinniman, a strong and consistent critic of using the Keystones as graduation requirements, said the legislation marked a milestone victory against the proliferation of standardized testing in schools and unfunded mandates on school district taxpayers.

Senator Dinniman discuss the Keystone Exams at a recent Senate Education Committee meeting.

Senator Dinniman discuss the Keystone Exams at a recent Senate Education Committee meeting.

“I want to thank all of the parents, teachers and education officials who made up the groundswell of opposition to push back the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements,” he said. “It has been a long road. We have been fighting this battle since 2012. And today, the legislature agreed that using these tests as the sole determinate of graduation is both questionable and problematic. The Keystones as graduation requirement are unfair to students, and our school districts have no way to pay for them.”

Dinniman also noted that in all of its votes before House and Senate Committees, as well as on both floors, not one lawmaker voted against Senate Bill 880.

Senate Bill 880, introduced by Senator Lloyd Smucker, majority chair of the Senate Education Committee and co-sponsored by Dinniman, the minority chair, unanimously passed the Senate in June.

Under current regulations, high school students beginning with the class of 2017 (current juniors) would have to pass Keystone Exams in three subject areas (Algebra I, Biology and Language Arts) 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 delays the requirement until the 2018-2019 school year, meaning it would affect current 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.

Currently, 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, resources or funding to school districts to staff the project-based assessments.

Senate Bill 880 was unanimously approved by the House in November with a minor change directing the Department of Education to investigate and, within six months, issue a report on the following:

  • Alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency for graduation in addition to the Keystone Exams and project-based assessments.
  • Improving and expediting the evaluation of the project-based assessments.
  • Ensuring that students are not prohibited from participating in vocational-technical education or elective courses or programs as a requirement of supplemental instruction.

Senate Bill 880 was based on similar legislation, introduced by Dinniman last spring, that called for or 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.

Dinniman said that while he would have liked to see the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements completely eliminated, Senate Bill 880 represented the most legislatively feasible approach.

“This marks a crucial step in reevaluating and rolling back the make-or-break graduation requirement that was put in place by the previous administration and returning the focus of education from testing to teaching,” he said.

Dinniman also added that he was pleased to see the legislature reassert its role in the process – one that has been largely dominated by the regulatory process, which operates with little to no consideration of fiscal impacts.