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Bills would give options for students to graduate

The state Legislature has already tossed out the requirement for career and technical education students to pass the state’s standardized Keystone Exams in English, algebra and biology.

Now, bills in the state Capitol are aimed at giving all students multiple pathways to graduate if they don’t pass Keystone Exams.

A bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Thomas McGarrigle, R-Chester, was met with statements of support from the state’s teacher union and school boards association.

Local school officials, too, support efforts to put less importance on standardized test scores.

“Since the inception of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement, we have seen the negative impact of the one size fits all measure of success,” Hollidaysburg Area Superintendent Bob Gildea wrote in an email Thursday. “Countless students, who are great kids with amazing talents outside the tested content areas, are deprived of opportunities to pursue their interests due to our overemphasis to succeed on the exams. Elective courses are omitted from their schedules to make room for Keystone remediation courses. This does nothing to help us accomplish our mission of preparing our students to be successful and productive members of society,” Gildea stated.

McGarrigle’s bill proposes four pathways to graduate if they don’t pass Keystone Exams.

But it’s not the only bill in Harrisburg that aims to address the issue, said Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, Senate Education Committee chairman.

“The bill (McGarrigle’s bill) was just introduced, and it hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet. I expect to get it in the Education Committee, but that is up to the Pro Tem’s Office. I have not looked at it, but there are a number of bills that deal with the Keystone Exams, including one that I sponsored.”

Eichelberger’s bill, SB 756, which he co-sponsored with Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, “eliminates the Keystone Exams or any composite of these exams from being taken or used as a high school graduation requirement,” a memo seeking co-sponsors said. A variety of other measures could be used to show student competency to meet federal standards.

The statutory requirement for students to pass Keystone Exams isn’t yet in effect; it’s been delayed until the 2019-20 school year.

The alternate graduation options in McGarrigle’s bill — or any similar legislation — would take effect when the current Keystone Exam delay expires.

According to McGarrigle’s plan, one way to graduate would be to achieve an established composite score based on performance on all three of the Keystone Exams. A second option entails achieving established equivalent scores on a variety of alternate assessments, acceptance in a registered apprenticeship program after graduation or attainment of a career readiness certificate. The third option is a clarification of what passed last year — it allows students who are career and technical education concentrators to demonstrate competency through evidence specific to their trade.

A fourth option students could take is to present at least three approved pieces of rigorous and compelling evidence relating to a student’s postsecondary or career objectives that reflect readiness for graduation.

The bill further provides for the elimination of project-based assessments, places parameters on supplemental instruction relating to Keystone Exams and prioritizes student college and career planning while tying that to the graduation requirement options.

Pennsylvania State Education Association supports the proposed changes.

“Standardized tests aren’t the only way to measure students’ abilities, and they’re certainly not the best way to do it,” read a statement attributed to PSEA President Dolores McCracken. “This is a solid proposal,” McCracken stated.

Such proposals are forward looking, according to Hollidaysburg Area School District curriculum director Francine Endler.

“The movement in education is to personalize instruction. The next logical step would be to offer options to demonstrate readiness for success after high school in each student’s chosen pathway.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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