Local schools gear up for Keystone Exams

Author: , Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published: Sep 13 2012 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Sep 14 2012 06:40:29 PM EDT

The PSSA's are old news for Pennsylvania's 11th graders.  New tests, called the Keystone Exams, will be used instead this year. 

The state Department of Education wants a Pennsylvania diploma to mean all students have the tools they'll need to be successful after graduation, and the Keystone Exams are the first step. 

But local schools only found out about this year's exam plans five weeks ago.

"In a nutshell, this is a change that's coming so fast at us, it's like ready, fire, aim," explained C. Russell Mayo, superintendent, Allentown School District.

Schools across the state are now rushing to get students test ready

The tests in Algebra I, biology and literature will replace the PSSA's for every 11th grader.  In Allentown, that's nearly 3,000 teens. 

The students will take the exams this winter and spring, regardless of when they learned the material.

"Some of the students will not have had Algebra I in two to three years," said Mayo.  "So we're scrambling to figure out how we can bring these students up to speed for these scores as quickly as possible."

The Keystones are said to be more relevant and rigorous than the PSSA tests, and scores will be used to determine federal testing goals.  The school district said it's preparing.

"It puts us in a very difficult situation, and we're very very concerned about it. We have a committee coming together to plan how we will tutor and work with our students to get them ready," added Mayo.

He said the school district is currently working to alter its curriculum to common core standards so students will be learning the material they need.

"It certainly potentially sets us up to look like we're not doing our job as a school district with our kids."

Local teachers are feeling the pressure, too.

"You feel under the gun when you're told at the beginning of the school year that things have changed and you have months to prepare the students," said Sandi Gackenbach, president, Parkland Education Association Union.

Gackenbach said educators feel that students are getting the short end of the stick this year.

"They're children, not testing drones and that is the concern that most educators are having right now," she said.

The Keystone Exams are course-specific, and the state is also requiring students in grades 8 through 10 who are taking the classes to take the exams.  Those scores will be saved so the students won't need to re-take the tests when they reach 11th grade. 

Pending federal approval, in 2017 they'll become a requirement to graduate high school.