Palmerton Area High School juniors must take the new Keystone exams this winter.

Sherrie Fenner, director of curriculum and instruction, informed the board of school directors of the change at a workshop meeting on Tuesday.

Fenner said the tests are a result of changes to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) to phase in the Keystone exams in the high school to replace 11th grade PSSAs.

Another purpose, Fenner said, is to align grades 3-8 PSSAs to the assessment anchor content aligned to the PA Common Core Standards.

Assessment options that are new for the 2012-13 school year, Fenner said, are that the Keystone exams and PSSAs are offered online, as well as paper and pencil.

Fenner said "administration has decided to go with paper and pencil at all grade levels."

In the past, Fenner said that students who met a certain criteria were able to take a modified test. But, that test has since been eliminated, she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is implementing a writing field test in grades 3-5, in addition to the writing PSSA for 5th grade students, Fenner said.

While PDE strongly encourages full participation at all public schools, each district has the final determination regarding participation, she said.

Fenner said "administration is recommending that only Grade 4 will take the writing field test."

Further, Fenner said the PSSAs will not be administered to 11th grade students. Instead, all 11th graders must take all three Keystone exams (Algebra I, Literature, and Biology), regardless of when the course was taken.

If the student took the Keystone in ninth grade in 2011 and scored proficient or advanced, they may be permitted to be exempt in 2012-13, she said.

The three exams will determine Adequate Yearly Progress for the high school, Fenner said.

Students that are not in Grade 11, but are taking Algebra I, Literature, and/or Biology, are required to take the Keystone exam at the end of the course, she said. They will then count toward AYP scores for the high school next year, and the scores will be "banked" until the student reaches Grade 11, Fenner said.

The eighth grade class in 2012-13 is the first class that will be required to demonstrate proficiency on the three exams to graduate, she said. Students will be able to retake the Keystone exams, which are offered three times a year, Fenner said. The highest score will be used to calculate AYP, she said.

The testing wave, Fenner said, will be as follows: Wave I, Dec. 3-14, 2012; Wave 2, Jan. 9-23, 2013; spring, May 13-24, 2013; and summer, July 29-Aug. 2, 2013.

She said PDE plans to apply for new targets for AYP. The current targets are 89-percent for math, and 91-percent for reading, in the 2012-13 school year, Fenner said.

Looking ahead to 2014, Fenner said grades 3-5 English Language Arts (ELA) and math PSSAs will be based on assessment anchor content aligned to the PA Common Core Standards (currently based on assessment and anchor content standards). Also, ELA grades 3-5 includes a writing component (previously, writing was only tested at Grade 5), while grades 6-8 will have a stand-alone writing field test, she said.

As for 2015, Fenner said grades 3-8 ELA and math will be based on assessment anchor content standards aligned to PA Common Core Standards, while grades 3-8 will have a writing component embedded in the ELA PSSA.