Standardized tests

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HARRISBURG — Roughly one-third of the state’s 11th-graders failed to demonstrate proficiency on the state’s Keystone Exams for algebra and biology, the state Department of Education announced Tuesday.

Students did slightly better in literature, with just more than one-quarter of students failing to demonstrate proficiency on the test.

The scores might not be good news for those students, but the state’s got good news for them: The Legislature has passed and the governor has indicated he will sign legislation that stops a plan to begin using the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement.

“Preparation for 21st-century success cannot be measured just by performance on high stakes tests,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in announcing his support last week for SB 1095.

The statewide scores for 11th-graders in 2018 were largely unchanged from the prior year.

The statewide scores for 2018 announced Tuesday show that:

65.2 percent of 11th-graders were proficient or advanced in algebra

72.7 percent were proficient or advanced in literature;

and 64.4 percent were proficient or advanced in biology.

In 2017:

65.6 percent of 11th graders were proficient or advanced in algebra;

72.7 percent were proficient or advanced in literature;

and 63.4 percent were proficient or advanced in biology.

The move away from using the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement was strongly backed by school groups, including the Pennsylvania School Board Association.

“The legislation provides flexibility by allowing alternative valid and rigorous benchmarks for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills necessary to be college and career ready,” said PSBA Chief Executive Officer Nathan G. Mains.

The new law comes as the Department of Education has taken other steps to diminish the amount of time the state’s schools devote to standardized tests.

Last year the time required to take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) was reduced by an average of two days and this year the testing window will be reduced from three weeks to two weeks and moved to later in the school year, giving students additional classroom hours and school districts needed flexibility in planning their school calendars.

The PSSAs are administered in grades 3 through 8 for both English Language Arts and math; and grades 4 and 8 in science.

“Standardized tests can be one tool in helping identify content mastery of students and schools in support of planning and preparation, as well as meet federal and state reporting requirements,” Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera said. “However, lengthy standardized testing periods are not conducive to providing optimal learning environments, impacting students and teachers and reducing much needed instructional time and focus for districts.”

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