Officials Prepare for Drop in Grad Rate

Philly officials say Keystone Exams will prove an insurmountable obstacle.

empty classroom

We’ve long known that state and local ed officials are concerned about 2017, when a new standardized test — the Keystone Exams — are to be added as a graduation requirement. Now, NPR says, there’s a real fear those tests will drive down the graduation rates in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. Statewide, the passage rate so far has been just 54 percent:

Philadelphia, especially, is bracing for a drop in the graduation rate once the testing requirement takes effect.

Right now, the graduation rate in the city is 65 percent. But based on the current scores on these tests, four out of five students in Philadelphia would need to take an alternative route in order to graduate.

That “alternative route” is a project-based assessment that reportedly takes more than 10 hours to complete. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has a FAQ on those assessments, outside-the-classroom activities that let students show they’ve mastered the materials needed to graduate — but do it without taking the test. Students will have to apply by Jan. 15 of a school year in order to do a PBA and have it considered as the graduation requirement.

The Keystone Exams are given at several grade levels, and have begun producing a pushback even beyond Philadelphia. Last week, West Chester Superintendent Jim Scanlon urged his district’s parents to push state officials for a moratorium on the test. Similarly, the Lower Merion school board passed a resolution asking state officials to “strive to minimize the amount of standardized testing.”

It’s not just graduation that’s in danger, Scanlon said, but the entire educational experience.

“We have students pulling their hair out, cause they’re so stressed with taking the Keystone Exams,” Scanlon told CBS Philly. “We have kindergarten students who are crying because they see their 3rd grade brother or sister going to school with a stomach ache, and all upset because they are now taking these tests.”

Given its evident unpopularity, why are the Keystone Exams even in place?

“Supporters of the requirement, though, say the state needs to do a better job ensuring that all students are prepared for the modern job market,” NPR reports. “Giving credence to this point, 70 percent of students at the Community College of Philadelphia need remedial work before moving on to college-level classes.”