The state Board of Education has made another change on the Keystone Exams.
The board gave final approval to the end-of-course high school assessments in mid-March, formally installing the Keystones as the replacement for the 11th-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams starting with the class of 2017.
While that was a formality - districts have been administering Keystones in a pilot phase for two years - the board also decided to remove the graduation project requirement. The state board wanted districts to focus on Keystones and not have to juggle the additional mandate of a graduation project, said Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller.
"Allowing that to be a local decision was more appropriate," Eller said.
Keystones will also not have an impact on students' course grade, according to the board's decision, although that change to the original proposal had been previously discussed. The PSSA wasn't administered this year, and the Keystone results from this year haven't been made publicly available yet.
Several school district officials around York County said they are awaiting written confirmation from the state before making a decision on graduation projects at their high schools.
Many said they already had a graduation project in place because they believe it helps seniors, but without it being a requirement for Keystones as previously proposed, they may modify it.
Dallastown Area High School modified their requirements for a graduation project, beginning next school year for seniors, after a lengthy discussion with staff and administrators.
Students will still be compiling extensive online portfolios to showcase what they've done in school, said assistant superintendent Josh Doll, but no longer will have to do a project on top of that that would have helped satisfy proposed Keystone requirements.
Since some juniors already were working on their graduation projects, the about-face does create an issue.
"We recognize that there may be current juniors that wish to see their projects through to completion and desire time to present to a panel of educators," Doll said. So those juniors can still present their projects, he said.
Hanover Public is "planning to keep something in place," according to Pamela Smith, director of curriculum and instruction. Hanover students do career-oriented projects.
And West York Superintendent Emilie Lonardi said that while she's waiting for state direction, she finds the projects "very worthwhile" in her district, as students do a multi-faceted project. One concern of the projects, she said, is the time crunch on students.
"We're going to take a look at the busyness of our students," Lonardi said.
What students will do: The Keystones are a change of pace from the 11th-grade PSSAs, which are cumulative and require students to recall information from courses they may have taken years prior to the test.
The class of 2017, now eighth-graders, would be the first class required to show proficiency on the Keystones in order to graduate, taking three tests. Proficiency on Keystones means the student has a "solid understanding" of the materials.
The tests are in Algebra I, biology and literature. The class of 2019 will also have to pass composition, and the class of 2020 will have to pass civics and government. If a student doesn't pass, he or she can retake the test after getting tutoring, and if the student still doesn't pass, can demonstrate knowledge in other ways by doing a project.
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