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Keystone Exams to become part of Palmerton students' curriculum

Published February 10. 2011 05:00PM

It appears as though students in the Palmerton Area School District will be required to take a Keystone Exam that will count as one-seventh of their final grade.

Sherrie Fenner, director of curriculum and instruction, informed the school board at a committee workshop on Tuesday of her recommendation for the new Pennsylvania Department of Education graduation requirements.

Fenner recommended that students take the Keystone Exam as stand-alone assessment in which they must be at least proficient. In addition, she said the students will use the electronic version, and announced the district would defer an opt-out option until a later date, if at all.

Last month, Fenner told the committee students may take the exam as one of four options under the state's new system of high school graduation requirements.

At that time, Fenner said that on Jan. 8, 2010, the State Board of Education amended the high school graduation requirements section of the Chapter 4 regulations.

As a result, Fenner said local graduation policies must include completion of course and grades; completion of culminating project; proficiency in each standard; and proficiency in each main subject.

This year, Fenner said eighth graders in Algebra I will have to take the Keystone Exam, but added it won't impact their grade. Next year, she said the exam will impact their grade.

Fenner said all of the district's Algebra I students will take the exam by paper and pencil May 10-11, while second semester Biology students will try the online version May 9-13. Second semester Literature students will take the exam by paper and pen May 9-10.

Students in eighth grade that are enrolled in Algebra I during the 2010-11 school year must participate in the Keystone Exams. Since the cut scores and performance levels for these exams will not be set until after the school year ends, results shouldn't be factored in the students final course grades for graduation requirements. As a result, these students will be exempt from that aspect of the requirements.

The Keystone Exams will be administered three times per year in order to allow for block scheduled schools to test at the conclusion of the course and retesting. The tentative time frame is winter, spring and summer.

The exam will include multiple choice and open-ended questions, with about 60-70 percent of the total score from the multiple choice questions, and the remainder of the score allotted for the open-ended questions.

The English Composition Keystone Exam will be an exception and will have only 20-percent of the total score from the multiple choice questions.

Each Keystone Exam has two modules, each of which takes about one to one-and-a-quarter hours to complete. A typical student should complete the exam in two to two-and-a-half-hours.

The exam may be given at one sitting, or broken into two sessions given on separate, consecutive days.

As of the 2014-15 school year, Keystone Exam assessment scores shall be included on student transcripts.

Also on Tuesday, the board heard an update on the status of several districtwide projects from Rob Sarnowksi of Barry Isett & Associates.

Sarnowksi told the committee bids were received for the air dryer at S.S. Palmer Elementary, while an initial look at the junior high gymnasium floor was scheduled.

In addition, Sarnowksi said the district will advertise for the Towamensing deck and rail project, high school warehouse shingle roof replacement, and high school chemistry lab ventilation project.

As of next month, the district will advertise for the Towamensing Elementary ADA ramp, junior high/senior high oil tank removal, S.S. Palmer emergency generator replacement, S.S. Palmer front step restoration, and high school tennis courts resurfacing projects, he said. The high school roof project is expected to go out to bid in April, Sarnowski said.

Other projects upcoming include the junior high/senior high window replacement, exterior door replacement, and catwalk terra cotta pipe, he said.

Sarnowksi said the junior high school floor, field house and bleachers, and high school auditorium are part of year two projects.

Last month, the board approved Barry Isett & Associates to proceed with the plans for the building projects.In essence, the board approved, in concept, years one and two with investigation and design at a cost of about $4,808,400.

At a workshop held earlier that month, the committee was presented with an updated list of projects as part of a three-year construction plan that totals about $5,309,950.

In December, the board at a special meeting adopted a resolution to borrow $5 million in bond funding and restructure its 2006 bond issue in the amount of $5.4 million that is scheduled to be paid off in 2026.

The bonds have a five-year call, and the interest rate will be 3.95-percent from 2011-2026. The district also has a 2007 bond in the amount of $1,545,000 scheduled to be paid off in 2018.

In November, the board on an 8-1 vote agreed to authorize Barry Isett & Associates to begin design work on the high school roof. Also at that time, the board, on a 7-2 vote, agreed to authorize the firm as engineer of record for the district, effective immediately.

In October, the board agreed to borrow an additional $5 million to fund maintenance and repair projects, with the stipulation that unused borrowed money be used to pay down the debt. That decision came after two prior motions, one to borrow $5 million, and the other, to borrow $2 million, were defeated.

Also at that time, the board agreed to refinance a pair of bond issues and the energy performance lease.

In July, the board agreed to refinance its 2005 bond issue in the amount of $6 million that is scheduled to be paid off in 2016. In the process, it saved $175,314.

Business manager Lisa Vignone previously said that while the payments will go up, the district will not exceed the $1.6 million a year in debt service without impacting the amount of the loan payments for the next eight years.

As a result, the debt service for 12 years will be about $1.6 million, Vignone said, with the remaining four years at about $1.2 million, she said.

Had the board not agreed to borrow, the debt service would have decreased to $1.2 million in 2019, Vignone said.

From 2020-2023, it would have been about $670,000, and from 2024-2026, about $470,000, at which point the district would have been done with its debt service, she said.

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