Pa. Opts Out of Standardized Testing — For Now

Keystone Exams won't be used as graduation requirement until 2019.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed a bill that delays implementation of statewide standardized testing as a graduation requirement until the 2018-2019 school year.

The Keystone Exams were to become a graduation requirement in 2017, but the prospect had drawn increasing opposition from educators and parents as the date drew near — with a fear that implementation would drive down graduation rates: Statewide, the passage rate so far has been just 54 percent; last year, NPR reported that four out of five Philadelphia students would be unlikely to meet the standard.

“While we should have high academic and educational standards in the commonwealth, there have been issues with the implementation of the Keystone exams, which is why I am signing a bill to delay their use as a graduation requirement,” Wolf said in a statement announcing the signing. “My administration is currently engaging teachers, administrators and students, community leaders, stakeholders and advocates from around the state to develop a comprehensive school accountability system that will support schools and help Pennsylvania students succeed.”

The move comes amidst a growing “opt-out” movement against standardized tests. City Council held hearings on the matter in November 2014, and last spring saw a number of students at area schools refuse to take state assessments last spring. 

“Governor Wolf’s latest measure to delay the implementation of the Keystone Exams is a testament to his commitment to improving public education in Pennsylvania,” Otis Hackney, the city’s Chief Education Officer under Mayor Jim Kenney, told Philly Mag today. “Passing these end-of-course tests did not adequately assess students’ academic proficiency, nor the teachers ability to instruct. I support the governor’s efforts to find comprehensive and cost-efficient methods to measure students’ academic performance while setting high educational standards.”

The bill had the backing of teachers unions.  “Passage of this legislation continues the progress we’ve been making in Pennsylvania and across the country in moving away from over reliance on standardized tests,” Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, told the York Dispatch. “Our members know from solid research and from our own classroom experience that forcing kids to take too many high-stakes standardized tests takes time away from actual teaching and real learning.”

As part of the law signed Wednesday, the Department of Education has been directed to research alternative methods of assessing graduation readiness, and to report back to the House and Senate education committees within six months.