Somerset County superintendents approve of new graduation requirements

November 10, 2018

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed legislation that will provide students with more options to meet high school graduation requirements than standardized tests.

“How a student does on high stakes tests is not a useful way to decide if someone is ready to graduate from high school,” Wolf said in a news release. “This new law gives students several options to demonstrate what they’ve learned and that they’re ready to graduate from high school to start a career or continue their education.”

Act 158 of 2018, which Wolf signed last month, is in line with recommendations from the state Department of Education. Students have four additional options to demonstrate postsecondary readiness.

They can earn a satisfactory composite score on the algebra I, literature and biology Keystone Exams; or earn a passing grade on the course associated with each Keystone Exam, and earn a specific score on certain exams, complete a pre-apprenticeship program, gain acceptance to an accredited four-year nonprofit institution of higher education or meet other requirements.

They may also earn a passing grade on the course associated with each Keystone Exam and “demonstrate readiness for postsecondary engagement” through three pieces of evidence aligned to student goals and a career plan.

Career and technical education students may earn a passing grade on the course associated with each Keystone Exam and attain an industry-based certification, pass an industry-based assessment or meet other requirements.

The decision was well-received by local educators, including Mark Bower, superintendent of the Rockwood Area School District.

“Education is not ‘one size fits all’ for every student,” he said in an email. “The assessments we use to measure academic achievement should not be ‘one size fits all’ either.”

Tracey Karlie, Meyersdale Area School District superintendent, said the ideal method of measuring students would include an array of measures ranging from standardized to goal-specific. It would take both performance and growth into consideration. He believes the idea of looking at field specific measures is important and they have seen that with the assessments beyond the PSSA and Keystones.

“I think any educator can tell you there is more to a child than their score on a standardized test,” he said. “However, finding the correct balance of measures to assess any child’s achievement or growth can be a challenge, time consuming and costly.”

Tom Kakabar, Conemaugh Township superintendent, said the act was a significant move in the right direction. He thinks it provides a more flexible way of assessing the success of students.

“I have never been a huge advocate of using one high-stakes assessment to determine whether a student is proficient and ready for graduation,” Kakabar said. “I believe that the high-stakes testing has caused many schools to focus too much time on preparing for the test rather than providing a well-rounded education.

“What I mean by that is that many schools do not have enough time to provide students with life skills that I believe are very important, such as handling personal finance, understanding simple credit and staying current with the world around you.”

Jeff Malaspino, superintendent of the Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District, said the act puts some of the graduation decisions back into the hands of local districts and school boards.

“They are only one measure of achievement, given at a single point in the year,” he said in an email. “They can be strains on time and resources within the district. The test(s) too often drive decisions being made at the local level which may not necessarily align with the best interest of student(s).”

Somerset Superintendent Krista Mathias, felt a similar way.

“Students have more talents and abilities than can be measured on any standardized test, and schools are teaching much more than PSSA and Keystone test content,” Mathias said. “Schools need and want to prepare students with the skills employers desire and to provide opportunities that go beyond the tested subjects.”

The new graduation requirements take effect for the graduating Class of 2022.

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