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Keystone Exam an option for graduates

Published January 06. 2011 05:00PM

Palmerton Area School District students may take a Keystone Exam as one of four options under the state's new system of high school graduation requirements.

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

Fenner told the committee 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.

"The main change is the Keystone Exam itself," Fenner said. "The state is now giving us a test that they're saying is a strong option for us."

In the past, Fenner said the district has used its own final exam.

"If we use our own final exam, they have to be validated by the state, and there's a cost with that," she said. "The state wants a pretty much driven exam."

In the event that students don't pass the exam, districts are mandated to provide supplemental instruction, Fenner said.

"We have something kind of similar to that now if they don't pass the PSSA, but this adds a little more piece to that," she said. "If they don't pass the final exam, we have to provide remediation for them."

In addition, Fenner said the Keystone Exam must now be listed on a student's transcript because "they want all courses to have the same level of integrity."

"It's very difficult for the district because all of the changes aren't known yet," she said. "We're still waiting for PDE to answer lot of our questions, and yet we have to implement a lot of these changes."

Fenner said the district will attempt to get the information out to parents "as quick and we can and as quick as we feel we have answers."

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.

"Eighth grade is mandated," she said. "The state is encouraging us to implement the exam at other levels, and we will be implementing the Keystones both electronically, and paper and pencil, so that we can get a feel for what we prefer."

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.

As per the new graduation requirements, Phase I is for students that graduate in 2015 and 2016, those who are currently seventh and eighth grade students. Those students must show proficiency in English Composition, Literature, Algebra I, and Biology.

Phase II is for students who graduate beyond 2017, those who are currently in grades kindergarten through sixth. Those students must demonstrate proficiency in both English Composition and Literature; two of three math (Algebra I, Algebra II, or Geometry); one of two sciences (Biology or Chemistry); and one of three Social Studies (American History, Civics and Government, or World History).

Fenner noted there are four options to attain proficiency in each main subject.

She said the state has developed a Keystone Exam that counts as at least 33-percent of the course grade; offers the Keystone Exam as stand-alone assessment in which the student must be at least proficient; offers independently-validated local assessments; and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exams.

With regard to the Keystone Stand-Alone option, districts have the discretion how to weigh the assessment in course grading, which would mean that 33-percent would not be required. While students still need to be proficient, districts can determine the percentage to be used in the final grade and if the Keystone would replace the final exam.

As for Keystone Exam retest options, students that fail can retake the test one time, and if a student fails the test the second time, they will need to pass a project-based assessment, which will be developed by the department, administered by the school staff, and scored by a regional panel of educators. The state Department of Education recommends embedding the project-based assessment into the course, rather than waiting until a student fails the exam twice.

As it relates to Supplemental Instruction, as of 2011-12, a student who doesn't demonstrate proficiency in any of the 10 courses shall be offered supplementary instructional support by the district. The supplemental instructional support must assist the student to attain proficiency in the state academic standards.

In relation to Special Education students, students with IEP's enrolled in courses designed to replace Algebra I, Biology or Literature shall participate in the Keystone Exams as determined by the IEP team.

As for Adequate Yearly Progress, the state petitioned the United States Department of Education to allow the Keystone Exams to replace the 11th grade PSSA math, while literature will replace the 11th grade PSSA reading, and Biology will replace the 11th grade science PSSA, although it doesn't count toward AYP.

Students in 8th 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 finals 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.

Fenner said the district needs to decide four things: which option is best for the students; if the Stand-Alone option is selected, the percentage that would count toward the final grade; and which format will be used, paper or electronics; and should the opt-out option be utilized.

"Next workshop, I'll be coming back to you with recommendations on all four of these," Fenner said.

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