Excerptedfrom Sara K. Satullo, Express-Times
TheBethlehem Area School Districtis pushing for mandate relief from Pennsylvania’s Keystone Exams project-based assessments.
Starting with the class of 2017, students must pass three subject-based end-of-course exams. If students can’t pass the exams, state laws calls for them to complete a project-based assessment.
But the assessments the state designedare rather rigid. Students and teachers don’t get to select the projects. Rather, students must take a series of online modules, estimated to take from eight to 40 hours.
Bethlehem Assistant Superintendent for Education Jack Silva said the assessments are time and technology intensive. And students will have to wait for the state to evaluate portions of the exams before moving on to the next module.
Only a handful of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have piloted the project-based assessments. Locally, theNazareth Area School Districtgot a chance to pilot the tests, Silva said. But Silva’s yet to see one of the project-based assessments.
If students fail the biology Keystones they immediately move on to the project assessment. With algebra and English, students get two shots to pass the exams.
“If you don’t pass the Keystone exams twice, (the project-based assessment) is a very difficult online test,” SuperintendentJoseph Roysaid.
Assuming seven out of 10 district students pass the Keystones, that means 30 percentof students must complete 900 project-based assessments, Roy said.
Given the state’s delay in evaluating pilot assessments, the sheer volume of assessments is an enormous problem, Roy said. There is no way the state can hire enough people to evaluate all of the assessments, he said.
“It’s a mess,” Roy said. “… I don’t think it’s doable.”
Districts are struggling to figure out how to implement the assessments without pulling students away from electives, course recovery or vo-tech courses.
Last week, state Acting EducationSecretary Pedro Rivera visited Lehigh University and said the project-based assessments are a top priority. He agrees the current system is too rigid but noted much of the system is written into state law, making it tricky to alter quickly.
Consideration is being given to allowing vo-tech students to use NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) scores, SAT scores or industry certificates as way to show proficiency, Rivera said.
“We are pushing hard for relief of that mandate,” Silva said. “If we had our way, we would have an immediate moratorium.”
Currently, Bethlehem is considering creating a 40-minute class that students will take in place of an elective.Teachers will have expertise in the subject matter of the assessment.
Silva fears the set up will turn students off of school.
Board President Michael Faccinetto asked what happens if the school board refuses to enforce the project-based assessments.
Silva said he has the responsibility to carry out state education law.
Roy noted superintendents can waive the requirement for up to 10 percent of a class and special education students could be exempted through their individualized education plans.