This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has responded to protests from education organizations by prohibiting changes to graduation requirements during this school year.
Currently, local districts can use their own assessments to determine if a student is proficient in reading, writing, and mathematics and eligible for a diploma.
To ensure that all Pennsylvania graduates are held to a rigorous standard, the State Board of Education passed proposed regulations in early 2008 to create a statewide baseline for graduation requirements. But groups including the Education Law Center urged that the General Assembly reject the regulations.
“The Ed Law Center and a lot of other groups objected to the prospect of having a student’s diploma withheld… because they failed a simple paper and pencil test,” said Baruch Kintisch of the Education Law Center.
The Board’s planned regulations would have made local districts prove that their assessments met a state standard – or students could have demonstrated proficiency on other tests, including PSSA or a series of new Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs). GCAs would have been like final exams; students who failed would have been eligible for remediation and retesting.
Rather than instituting “one more paper and pencil test” for graduation, Kintisch said, “it’d be nice for the state to take the time to use the portfolio- or performance-based assessments like other states have done.”
Joining the Education Law Center in its objections were the Philadelphia Student Union, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project, which brought a group from a Philadelphia church to legislative hearings.
The House Committee on Education cited hearing testimony in recommending that the State Board of Education reevaluate the proposed regulations.