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Worries Abound as Pa. Revamps Performance Testing in Public High Schools

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in the process of rolling out new exams for high school students that will become a graduation requirement by 2017.

Some suburban districts started giving them last week. Philadelphia will give them in January.

But already the tests are causing concern among educators and students.

The “Keystone” exams replace the PSSA as the state’s measure of a school’s yearly progress, but they differ in several important ways.

The new exams test specific subject areas: algebra, biology, and literature.  They are more rigorous, which Jim Buckhite of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators says most superintendents applaud, but it also requires that they align their curriculum with the test, which many haven’t yet had time to do since the tests were announced only this summer.

“So it really is sort of putting schools in a very, very difficult position and will paint them as, essentially, failing,” Buckhite tells KYW Newsradio.

But state officials have applied for a federal waiver so the scores won’t count right away in appraising schools.  Still, they’re going ahead with the new testing even though they haven’t gotten an answer yet — or even approval for the new tests.

“Do we expect the number of 11th graders scoring ‘proficient’ to equal what the 11th grade PSSA is?  No, we don’t,” Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller acknowledges.

The stakes will be even higher when the tests become a graduation requirement — which has prompted a protest from, among others, Lower Merion junior Seth Eisenstein.

“Just the overemphasis on standardized testing in general,” he says, “this is only making that worse.”

State education officials say the tests will ensure all graduates in Pennsylvania have mastered high school essentials.  The class of 2017 will have to score “C” or above on the tests to graduate.