Committee votes to delay Keystone grad requirement

Jessica Schladebeck
Lloyd Smucker

Current high school freshman, courtesy of an act recently passed by the state House of Education Committee, will be the first required to pass Pennsylvania's Keystone exams to receive their diploma.

The committee on Tuesday passed a bill that delays the implementation of the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement until 2019.

The proficiency tests in Algebra I, biology and literature were approved as part of Pennsylvania Core standards — similar to the national Common Core — and implemented during the 2012-13 school year. Previously, passing marks on the end-of-course exams were set to become a graduation standard for the class of 2017, for those who are currently juniors.

The state Senate over the summer unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster County, that would postpone the requirement and the bill was then referred to the House Education Committee where it sat until legislators took action Tuesday.

Benefit: York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle said a delay in the requirement would allow the state to better clarify project-based assessments.

“The largest benefit from that delay would be the opportunity to bring clarity to project-based assessments,” she said. “No matter what school you’re in, there will be students that do not have the capacity to complete these up to standard because of special needs and will require the alternative assessment.”

Under current law, students who fail the exams twice are entitled to supplemental instruction and have the option of taking a project-based assessment under a teacher’s supervision. However, the Department of Education has yet to provide clear guidelines for the process.

“Project-based assessments would require personalization, it would require additional staffing,” Merkle said. “The way things are right now, we wouldn’t have funds to get that additional staff, so it would be a real benefit to delay.”

A delay can’t be the only action taken on the matter though, Merkle said.

“We have a long history of delaying decisions,” she said. “Two years down the road if we’re in the same spot that won’t do us any good.”

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, who chairs the committee offered an amendment to prevent stagnation. The bill's amendment requires the state education department to investigate alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency for graduation in addition to the Keystones, and that they report on its findings within six months.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at