Pennsylvania continues to wrestle with an essential question for the future of its people and its economy: What should a high school diploma mean, and what should it take to earn one?
In the past decade, the state has moved towards prioritizing standardized testing as a graduation requirement.
But the pendulum now seems to be swinging in the opposite direction.
A quick history lesson:
In the mid 2000s, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell’s administration pushed to create new standardized tests that students would need to pass in order to graduate high school.
By 2010, the measure became law, and it was decided that there would be 10 end-of-subject “Keystone” exams. Only three of these were developed — algebra, literature and biology.
Students began taking the tests in 2012, and performance was supposed to affect graduation for the class of 2017.
But then,more studentsthan expected weren’t passing the exams.
Annual pass rates have been below 60 percent for more than half of all district and charter schools, with lower pass rates for low-income students and students of color.
This past January, as the political fallout grew, lawmakers forgeda band-aid solution, pushing the effective date back two years. The bill delaying the requirement had unanimous bipartisan support, a major rarity. And it asked the state Department of Education — which is under the purview of Governor Tom Wolf — to sketch out some possible alternatives.
The report outlines four recommendations that offer students more ways to prove their readiness for college and career.
Achieve an identified “composite” score based on performance on the three tests.
Achieve equivalent scores in standards-based subject matter on one of the alternate assessments approved by the state.
Demonstrate competency in standards-based subject matter through course work, plus passing career technical education tests such as the NOCTI or the NIMS, orevidence that shows readiness for post-secondary success.
“They expect students to demonstrate persistence, and the ability to collaborate in teams, and the ability to think critically,” said Stem. “And those are skills beyond just passing Keystone Exams.”
California recentlyditched its exit exam requirements, and retroactively gave diplomas to those who completed coursework, but had failed the exams in the preceding years.
Yet, New Jersey recentlystrengthenedits high school graduation expectations. Earlier this month, lawmakers approved a measure requiring the class of 2021 to pass the Common Core alignedPartnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)test.
The report is now in the hands of state lawmakers.
If they stay close to the department’s suggestions, they’ll need to consider that students will have less incentive to perform well on standardized tests, while their scores will still be used to gauge the quality of schools and teachers.
That, though, could change soon, too.
The Wolf administration wants to revamp the state’s school and teacher quality metrics, also with less emphasis on standardized tests.