The Keystone Exams are getting pushed back.
The state Board of Education agreed to pursue several changes to the highly contentious end-of-course standardized tests for secondary students.
The Keystones, which have been in a pilot mode, are the state's intended replacement for the 11th grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam. That intention has not changed the 11th grade PSSA will not be administered next year.
But the Keystone implementation timeline would be pushed back, according to a board proposal.
Under that proposal, the class of 2017, who enter this fall as eighth-graders, would be the first class required to show proficiency on the Keystones in order to graduate.
Proficiency on Keystones means the student has a "solid understanding" of the material.
The possible impact on whether a student graduates is two years later than originally proposed and the requirement is a smaller scope.
The proposal calls for tests in Algebra I, biology
and literature. A final decision won't be made until the state budget passes.
The state board's proposal also calls for a Keystone composition exam to be added to the requirements for the class of 2019, bringing the total up to four. And then, for the class of 2020, a fifth exam in civics and government will be required.
What's changed: The original proposal for Keystones back in 2009 would have required students in the class of 2015 to pass six of 10 tests in order to graduate. The original proposal also called for the exams to affect one-third of a student's course grade; that provision has since been dropped.
The General Assembly removed funding for the Keystones in this year's budget. Gov. Tom Corbett is hoping to get $15 million in funding for the upcoming budget so those three exams can be offered.
Putting off full implementation of the exams also seems academically prudent.
"We believed it was necessary to have a delay to permit school districts and students to meet the necessary requirements," said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
The results back that up. In the pilot phase last year, students performed miserably on Keystone Exams, considering the exams are meant to prove a student knows what the state expects a student should know upon graduation. Only 36 percent of test-takers were proficient in biology, 50 percent in literature and 39 percent in algebra.
Accountability: Students who don't pass an exam can either retake it or do a project.
Schools will also have the option of offering other state-developed exams in addition to the core five if they want to make graduation requirements in their district more rigorous, Eller said. Those exams could be in geometry, chemistry, Algebra II, U.S. history or world history.
"Keystones are critical to educational accountability," said Sen. Jeff Piccola, chairman of the education committee and one of the exams' main supporters.
The Keystone changes are a "good compromise" to get the exams out to schools at a more acceptable pace for districts and the state budget, Piccola said.
Spreading out the required exams helps defray the cost, Eller said. Each exam costs about $5 million to implement, and the state doesn't have enough in its budget to take on five tests right away.
Some impact of the Keystones will take place right away, though. There will be no PSSA for 11th-graders next school year, Eller said.
Eller said the state is talking with the U.S. Department of Education about how high schools will comply with No Child Left Behind next year.
Committed: The uncertainty of Keystones could cause an issue, said Dallastown Area School District Interim Superintendent Ron Dyer.
Dyer said the state hasn't yet fully explained how everything will work since it's constantly in flux, so districts are doing the best they can to work through it.
And, at least for next year, there's the possibility that some eighth-graders will be taking the eighth-grade PSSA and some Keystone Exams, since students take a Keystone whenever they reach the end of the appropriate course, such as Algebra I.
But Dallastown is committed to it, he said, and he supports the notion of Keystones.
"There's real merit to end-of-course tests," Dyer said. "I know it's going to be a challenging test. We're going to be working on aligning curriculum."
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ydblogwork