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First round of Keystone Exams: Much concern among teachers

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Lots of criticism preceded the District’s implementation of the new Keystone Exams. In January, all juniors sat for the first round of the tests.

How did it go?

“I noticed it took much longer” than the PSSA, said Brian Cohen, a math teacher at the Academy at Palumbo.

“Judging by the sample questions released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, I do not think the kids were prepared. I wonder if the Algebra I students I teach will be ready for it in May.”

Cohen noted that teachers were not allowed to administer the test to their own students for test security reasons.

In place of the 11th-grade PSSAs, all 11th graders this year had to take the first round of Keystone Exams in Algebra I, biology, and literature. The results will be used to determine whether schools have met adequate yearly progress targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Starting this spring, the Keystones become exams that students must take as they near completion of coursework in the subject being tested. But teachers will most likely have to administer a final exam also.

Students typically will take the Algebra I Keystones their freshman year and biology and literature their sophomore year. Students who do not achieve proficiency can retake the exam. After two unsuccessful tries, they can access a state-created make-up option – a project-based assessment – but only if they meet attendance requirements in that class and complete a tutoring program.

Anissa Weinraub, a District teacher who proctored a group of 11th graders for the Keystones, said she could tell that they wanted to do well. But as the hours of testing stretched into days, she said frustrations mounted and students began to feel discouraged.

“Their behavior totally crumbled, as they showed the coping mechanisms that any person would pull out in the face of feeling like a failure – acting out, putting their heads down, and giving up.”

The District will administer the Keystones again in mid-May.

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