Wolf signs 2-year halt in Keystone Exams’ graduation mandate

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — A requirement that Pennsylvania students pass the Keystone Exams to graduate high school was put on hold Wednesday for at least two years, although Gov. Tom Wolf said he remains committed to accountability.

Gov. Tom Wolf

The Democratic governor signed a bill that delayed the tests’ graduation requirement until the 2018-19 academic year. His support for the bill “doesn’t mean that there’s no role for tests,” he told reporters.

The legislation passed the General Assembly unanimously.

Wolf called the testing system “at best incomplete” and said it puts undue burdens on faculty, requiring the state to fix implementation issues and determine if there are better ways to measure student achievement.

The Keystone Exams test for proficiency in algebra 1, biology and literature.

The governor said his administration was looking at financial management and how students do four or six years after leaving high school.

“These are the kind of things that reflect what higher education and employers are looking for,” Wolf said.

Reasons for the delay include significant failure rates and the costs and time involved in helping students pass the alternative “project based assessment.” By one account, about 126,000 Pennsylvania students failed at least one Keystone last March.

Students who fail twice in a given test area must instead complete a project under the guidance of an instructor, and show they understand it.

The administration said the large number of students going through the project based assessment was overwhelming local school districts and the state Department of Education. The new law gives education officials six months to provide the House and Senate’s Education committees with a report on other methods of measuring proficiency.

The State Board of Education approved the Keystone Exams in 2013 after about six years in development.

Many lawmakers want a permanent end to the tests, which have been criticized as unfair to students in poorer schools. About a dozen states currently have similar graduation tests.