This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
After two years of debate, the State Board of Education in August approved new graduation and testing requirements for students in Pennsylvania that would take effect with the graduating class of 2015 – today’s 7th graders.
Under the proposal, new Keystone Exams in English, Algebra I, and Biology will be phased in next school year and replace the current 11th grade PSSA tests in reading, math, and science in 2012-13. The state will also create seven other end-of-course exams that school districts can use on a voluntary basis.
To graduate, students would have to pass six of the 10 exams or prove their proficiency through an approved alternative measure.
State officials say the new regulations reject reliance on a single highstakes exam while strengthening graduation requirements to make sure that students leave school with the skills they need to succeed in college or a job.
“We want to ensure that a diploma has meaningful, substantive value. We want to give graduates, employers, and universities the assurance that our students have what they need to succeed,” said Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak.
Local districts can substitute their own assessments – which can include portfolios of student work – if they are independently validated as sufficiently rigorous. There are provisions requiring accommodations for English language learners and students with disabilities.
Statewide competency or graduation tests have long been a priority of Gov. Rendell but are mostly opposed by school districts and advocacy groups, who say they intrude on local control and are unfair to students in under-resourced schools. Board of Education Chairman Joseph Torsella engineered a compromise when legislators and districts objected to earlier proposals.
There is still significant opposition. Since the new requirements were approved, many districts have passed resolutions opposing them.
The regulations must still be approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission in a yearlong process.