New state exams coming for district

PUNXSUTAWNEY — New statewide graduation exams are on the horizon, which in turn will change the Punxs-utawney Area School District’s entire curriculum and graduation requirements.

Basically, “It’s more testing,” PAHS Principal David London said.

Monday, London, guidance counselor Emily Cassidy and director of federal programs and curriculum Richard Galluzzi reviewed the proposed Keystone Exams, which London said are designed to help all students, beginning with the Class of 2015, demonstrate proficiency in state academic standards.

According to the state Department of Education, the new exams are based on the fact that two-thirds of all new jobs created in the United States require at least some post-secondary education, citing the importance of preparing all students to graduate from high school with the potential to continue their studies and grow their skills.

London said he believes the motivation behind the new exams is because not all students are being exposed to “a rigorous curriculum.”

The board must approve the Keystone Exams, which will eventually replace the PSSAs, London said. The exams also require federal approval, which would see some students taking both the PSSAs and Keystone Exams, Galluzzi said.

There are three options the district can choose from in using the exams to determine graduation. London proposed the “stand-alone option,” in which the exams — as well as the district’s own graduation requirements — must be passed for graduation.

“We really think that’s the way to go now until they come out with some other testing options,” he said.

Another option would have the exams counting for 33 percent of a student’s final exam in a course.

In this case, it would be possible for a student to perform well in a course — Algebra I, for example — all year but have his or her score on the Keystone Exam jeopardize passing the course all together.

“Thirty-three percent is a big weight for a final exam,” London said.

A third option would be to use Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate exams taken in place of a Keystone Exam, but London said not all students take AP courses.

The district could also create its own local assessments, but would have to pay for independent validation.

Citing the proposed stand-alone option, London said students graduating in 2015 and 2016 would “work toward graduation right off the bat” in Phase I, or demonstrating proficiency through tests in English composition; literature; Algebra I; and biology. Phase II — for students graduating in 2017 and beyond — would see students testing and demonstrating proficiency in both English composition and literature; two of three math courses (Algebra I, Algebra II or geometry); one of two sciences (biology or chemistry); and one of three social studies (American history, civics & government or world history).

Right now, it’s possible for a PAHS student to graduate without taking Algebra I, for example, London said. But under the Keystone Exams, every student would take the same test. Therefore, “We would need to assess the curriculum; we’re going to have to bring our kids up to speed on a lot of things.”

This past November, PAHS field-tested students in the Algebra I, biology and literature Keystone Exams. Student board member Erin Butler said the exams were challenging.

The district is not planning field-testing this spring, but the Department of Education has mapped out a five-year implementation plan.

Each Keystone Exam is graded on a 100 percent scale, and a student would need to score between 70 to 89 to pass the test, which includes multiple choice and constructed-response or open-ended questions, London said. The tests would be taken online — as with the fall field test at PAHS — or with pen and paper.

There would be sample questions and scoring for each Keystone Exam to help students and teachers prepare, as well as online assessment tutorials for students.

Students may take Keystone Exams up to three times per school year, and may retake the entire test or just the module they didn’t pass.

If a student hasn’t reached proficiency after two tries, he or she may complete a project-based alternative to demonstrate knowledge in the subject matter.

London said he is planning events in the near future to review the proposed exams with seventh- and eighth-grade students and their parents.

As part of the new tests, the Punxsy district is also looking at adjusting the “senior projects” that are required for graduation, so that they are geared more toward career exploration and community service, Cassidy said.