Keystone Exam to Replace PSSA in 2013

by Christopher Paslay

Although the PSSA will remain in elementary and middle schools, the Keystone Exam will replace the PSSA in high schools across the state of Pennsylvania starting in the spring of 2013.  

Updated 7/31/12:

Memo From:  THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA Office of Accountability:

The Pennsylvania Department of Education provided clarification yesterday (July 12, 2012) regarding the Keystone Exams.  The following memo outlines key details about the requirements for participation in these assessments and manner in which student performance on the Keystone Exams will impact determinations about Adequate Yearly Progress.  In addition, we will offer some curricular strategies to assist you and your team in planning support programs to assist 11th grade students in preparing for success on the Algebra I, Literature and Biology Keystone Exams.

Assessment of 11th Grade Students

  • ALL 11th graders will take the Keystone assessments in the following 3 subjects next year:  Algebra 1, Literature, and Biology.
  • The Algebra 1 and Literature scores will be used in the calculation of AYP for the high school.
  • Biology will NOT be used in the AYP calculation. However, the 11th graders are still required to take the Biology Keystone Exam to meet the participation requirement in NCLB that all students complete a science assessment during their high school years.

 Assessment of 9th and 10th Grade Students

  • All students in grades 9 and 10, enrolled in the Algebra 1, Literature (generally, English 2), or Biology courses are required to take the Keystone Exam in these subjects upon completion of the course(s).
  • If a student scores proficient or better in any subject, his/her score/s will be banked and count towards AYP calculations when he/she is in the 11th grade and he/she need not take the examination again in this/these subject(s).
  • If a student does not score proficient, he/she has multiple opportunities to re-take the examination(s). However, his/her Algebra 1 and Literature scores will not count for AYP calculations until the student is in the 11th grade.
  • If a student took the Keystones in Algebra 1 and/or Literature Exam(s) multiple times between grades 9-11, and never scored proficient or better, his/her best score will count towards the AYP calculation when he/she is in the 11th grade.

 Assessment of Students Graduating in 2017 and Beyond (8th graders in 2013)

  • Students MUST score proficient or better in all the three subjects (Algebra1, Literature, and Biology.) in order to graduate from high school.
  • They can do so in multiple attempts.
  • This is a state requirement.
  • After 2 unsuccessful attempts students will have the option of completing a project.

The parameters for this project have not been finalized yet.

Below is a previous post from May 19, 2012 (this information is no longer accurate and has been updated above):

Now that students across the state are starting to master the PSSA test (last school year, 77% of all children in grades K – 12 scored proficient or above in math and 73.5% scored proficient or above in reading), the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is doing what all political bodies do when they want to stay in control and keep one step ahead of the people: they are changing the test.

Starting in 2012 – 13, high school students will no longer be taking the PSSA.  The Keystone Exams, which will consist of tests covering Algebra I, Biology, and Literature, will be given instead.  Although no testing schedule has been finalized, it’s probable that the Philadelphia School District, as well as most districts in the state, will give the Algebra I exam in the spring of freshmen year and the Biology exam in the spring of sophomore year.  Per the state’s “recommendation,” Philadelphia will most likely give the Literature test during sophomore year as well.

This is a significant change from the way the PSSAs were administered at the high school level in the past.  Under the PSSA, math, reading, writing, and science tests were given to all students in their 11th grade year (although only math and reading counted for AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind Law).  Now, because Algebra I is routinely taken in 9th grade and Biology in 10th, the Keystone Exams will likely be given during those years. 

What doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, however, is giving the Literature test in 10th grade instead of 11th.  Although the PDE is only “recommending” that the Literature portion be given at the end of sophomore year, it appears as though Philadelphia School District officials are going to heed this advice.

Although I’ve continued to inquire as to why the state is “recommending” giving the Literature portion in 10th, I’ve been unable to find an adequate answer; none of the administrators I’ve spoken with have been able to get an answer from the state, either.  Unless the PDE is able to offer a meaningful rationale, the Philadelphia School District should seriously consider giving the exam in 11th grade.

Here are three reasons why:

1.  The Literature Exam is based on skills, not content.  In other words, the test isn’t limited to a specific period of literature covered, like World Literature (9th and 10th grade), American Lit (11th grade), or British Lit (12th grade).  Whether or not specific stories or novels (content) are covered doesn’t matter.  The assessment anchors and eligible content on the Keystone Literature Exam are skills based (analyze author’s purpose, make inferences and draw conclusions, identify figurative language, etc.), so the reasoning that applies to Algebra I and Biology doesn’t apply to Literature.  The test can be given in any of the first three years of high school, so why not give it in 11th grade when the students have had another year to learn the skills needed on the test?  

2.  The Literature Exam is vocabulary based.  Giving the exam in 11th grade will give students another year to broaden their vocabularies, and to learn and practice new words.   

3.  Giving the Literature Exam in 11th grade will stagger the exams.  Why not have students take one exam per year from 9th to 11th, rather than taking both the Biology and Literature test in 10th grade?  Staggering the tests will help teachers and schools focus more on curriculum rather than killing instruction for students by forcing 10th graders to double-up on test preparation for two subjects at once.

Perhaps the most concerning part of the Keystone Exam is the new state graduation requirement.  According to the talk coming from the PDE, starting in the year 2017, all public high school students in the state will have to pass all parts of the Keystone Exam in order to graduate.  This would include students with special needs, those who are truant and miss large blocks of instruction, impoverished students with limited home support, and those with other social and emotional ills.  What will happen to the students who fail to pass all portions of the Keystone Exam and as a result fail to graduate?  If they are retained, who is going to pay for the extra seats, materials, and resources?  The city of Philadelphia, with $472 million in delinquent property taxes?  Or the state, which has slashed Philadelphia’s education budget like some Samurai Warrior?    

As with No Child Left Behind, which promised that all children would score proficient or better on state tests in reading and math by 2014, the 2017 Keystone Exam graduation requirement is quite ambitious.  Mostly likely we will see waivers being granted to students and schools starting in 2017 (similar to what is happening now with NCLB), when a backlog of students across the state struggle to meet these . . . unrealistic? . . . standards.        

Of course, it is of the utmost importance to set high expectation for all children, which is why Philadelphia School District officials should seriously consider giving the Keystone Literature Exam in the 11th grade, or at least demand a meaningful explanation from the PDE as to why they are “recommending” it be given in sophomore year.

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20 Comments

Filed under Standardized Testing

20 responses to “Keystone Exam to Replace PSSA in 2013

  1. myhistoryteach

    I think a big concern for districts is remediation. The challenge will be accommodating students that don’t pass one or more of the exams. Scheduling conflicts will more than likely occur as districts struggle to provide remedial classes in the subject area of each Keystone exam that the student didn’t pass. Testing in the Spring of 10th grade should give ample time for students to take those courses, retake and hopefully pass the exam. My concern is the dismantling/reduction of reading programs that is happening now that PSSAs are out of the picture. I think there are a lot of kids who benefit from those pull out classes that they take once they’ve been identified as struggling (usually between 8th and 11th grades).

  2. Josh

    I totally agree that the Literature portion should be in 11th grade. This is both “staggered” and developmentally appropriate. The reasoning abilities characteristic of high school juniors are broader, more informed, and more connected than 10th graders. An assessment of their critical reading skills in 11th grade is a good measure of how the school has done preparing kids with cross-disciplinary literature and literacy skills. And the content in 11th grade lit is closer to that of higher ed. I could name ONE HUNDRED REASONS TO MOVE THE LIT. TEST TO 11TH GRADE!

    • Marty Brown

      Personally I feel very nervous to this key stone exam, i think they should give study guides I agree don’t you, about half the students in the Pennsylvania Schools might be nervous and scared if they fail then they get held back, for the people who made this Keystone Test I beg you let there be a study guide for each test.

      • steve

        If kids are not learning shouldn’t they be held back? That’s the problem. We in education move kids on when they fail every subject every year. Then teachers in high school have to make a kid grow 8 grade levels because school was always a joke to kids. Holding them accountable is what we need. The message in scjolls bow is act however you want don’t do classwork or homework and you will still pass. Great message kids today are ignorant and expect everything to be handed to them. Thank their parents, it starts there. I love it

  3. My questions regarding the Keystone relate to the way the “crossover” is being handled why the decision to lock down a “test year” for the Literature Exam is a District wide one instead of the individual school.
    • The first two classes for which the exam is required are the 2015 & 2016 graduating classes (upcoming 9th and 10th graders) The 11th graders THIS YEAR will not be required to do anything with either of these exams. Do we test the class of 2014 in their 11th grade year although it is unnecessary for their graduation requirements?
    • Can we test both 10th and 11th graders this year, so that we have more data to look at next year AND offer the class of 2015 (first class Keystone is factored into graduation) 2 years to retest instead of just their senior year as a “do or die”?
    • When you ‘sign up’ for the Keystones, there is an “all-online” “pen and paper” or “both” option. Why wouldn’t the individual school decide what best fits their need as opposed to the district creating the overall mandate on the format of the test?
    • Same question for the year that students take the test: why can’t the individual schools decide? Why is it “The District” when no matter WHICH grade level they chose it will work against some of their schools?
    • To extend that even further, why can’t each school decide exactly which students will take the test in any given year?…A mix of some of their better prepared 10th graders with 11th graders that needed the extra year — as long as each student from the class of 2015+ has TAKEN each course & passed it, who cares what grade it was at?

    For Mr. Paslay: this is the first article I have seen that confirmed that the 11th grade will definitely NOT be required to take the PSSA. The only thing I knew about this was on the PDE it said, “if Corbett had his way, it would replace the 2013 test if approved by the DOE.” They made a final decision?

  4. steve

    I love it…..holding kids accountable for their learning….who would of thought. It is about time pa got on board now lets see if Delaware can. All accountability can’t be left on the teachers. PARENTS NEED TO STEP UP AND KIDS ALSO AND BE HELD ACCOUBTABLE FOR THEIR POOR EFFORT AND BEHAVIOR.
    WELL DONE PA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION!!!!!

    • Bob

      No that is a bad thing

    • Roy 16 y.o philadelphia highschool student

      Have you heard about the school closings in Philadelphia if you don’t live here and if you aren’t in these public schools watching how these kids act in the middle of class then you have no idea how tough it would be to learn when the teacher is constantly telling students to sit down and constantly breaking up fights ill give you a scenario say your in high school in Philadelphia and u have two rival schools (you know the dumb high school stuff) the two rival schools shut down and they send them all to your school now Your school is already underfunded OVER CROWDED and kids are fighting over seating and other petty things like “beef” so the teacher is busy accommodating students while the smart kids trying to get their education sit there waiting patiently for everything to die down and they can grab the little bit of education that they can*the bell rings* that’s everyday life in some schools and everyday life in every class in Philadelphia and then there pushing tests on students telling them u HAVE to pass but the school cant even teach the things on the test through this chaos I have come from a situation a little better that what is going on now in Philadelphia and I have prevailed due to gaining knowledge of the things “taught” in school OUTSIDE of school and I have only passed the English one and after taking the test I will tell you that when they say there’s “algebra one” there’s also algebra 2 on there AND 2-3 calculus questions that my brother in the 12th grade IS JUST learning but hey yeah its the students fault we are under funded its the students fault that the government rather fund science and exploring outer space before dealing with the problems we have HERE! yeah blame the students although some are at blame there are ones like me who ride the honor roll sitting here in disgust looking at the petty downfall of urban community education then there’s people like you who have no IDEA what’s going on in our schools there’s there’s people like you with there assumptions like they “Know what’s going on” in our schools there’s people like you who don’t know the half of it.

      • Teacher

        Wow, Roy, have you heard of a little punctuation mark known as the period? Using it would go a long way in making your comment understandable and literate, along with avoiding “text spelling” like u instead of you. Sorry pal, but this is YOUR fault and you need to correct it pronto.

      • Mister

        You said it. Disruptive students and disengagement during class periods is the number one problem in Philly schools. The vast majority of kids who want to, or at least are willing to cooperate, are completely paralyzed as the most ignorant (think IGNORE EVERYTHING) dominate the pace and quality of classroom life. This is a self-sabotaging dynamic, as everyone loses. Many forms of alternative schooling are currently practiced in schools across the country. Developing solutions outside the traditional school model for persistently disruptive kids is a necessity. The time wasted with defiance and discipline is precious time that is needed to advance the skills and understandings young people need to be competitive in school and workplaces as they get older. We don’t allow the types of behaviors we see in schools in any other public institution; libraries, museums, municipal buildings, parks, etc… So why in schools where the really important stuff is supposed to be happening during the school day, are countless sites under-supported and left to spiral out of the realm where students are learning?

      • Elle

        No “Teacher” (See his/her comment) should ever berate a student for making a well thought out, on point comment such as Roy’s. It is hard for students to learn in a disruptive atmosphere. I am facing the same thing in a much smaller PA community. There are several students attempting to learn, but are having a hard time due to a few trouble makers. And with teachers continually having to stop teaching to address these few, it causes a rift in the teachings for the day where students then need to stop paying attention and refocus. It’s hard! For you, Teach, to make fun of a 16 year old that’s trying to be heard and validated, it’s just plain wrong!!! If you are a teacher, I seriously question your abilities as a professional. Maybe you’re the one that should be graded instead of these students trying to make a difference in their own education.

  5. lex

    The Keystone is stupid passing the Keystone doesn’t prove anything. Their are real smart people who can pass a class but are horrible at testing. Especially with the added pressure of being held back. You adults are screaming Hurray! but for an all A 11th grader who’ll be graduating 2014 these tests are a nightmare.

    • my 14 year old has tourette syndrome and he has a learning disability this test is not fair to the kids that have disabilities that learn different from other kids the state needs to rethink of what could happen to these poor kids that dont graduate because if this stupid test it is unfair to these kids are govt is wrong and should start thinking of these kids .

  6. I totally agree that the Literature portion should be in 11th grade. This is both “staggered” and developmentally appropriate……..thanks
    sat test preparation topic

  7. Zach

    This is not a good thing at all. This new Keystone test is going to destroy any chances for potential graduates to graduate and move on with there lives. You “adults” have no clue what school is like for students today compared to your High School career. The teachers don’t teach they hand out study guides. School is nothing but memorization, you learn nothing except what you are FORCED memorize through study guides, there is no motivation for students; I have had friends loose all hope in life because of the public schooling system, they commit suicide through drug abuse because they made themselves believe they are stupid or worthless. I promise you the graduation rate in Pennsylvania will plummet, and along with that suicide rates will double in the the next decade.

  8. Joann

    My son took a ton of PSSAs last year and was told that the next 2 years, for 9th and 10th grade, he wouldn’t have to take any state tests. Now, this year, 1 month before the Keystone exam, we were told that he must take the test for Algebra. He studied all the stuff he learned this year, and said many things on the test, he didn’t even learn. He takes test after test after test all year long, and now must take HUGE tests at the end of EVERY year. Most of the things in schools are a waste of time anyway. I have been out of school for a long time and haven’t used most of the things I learned, especially Algebra. Unless you are going to be an architect, scientist… you probably aren’t going to use things like (2x^3+18y^2-10)(6x^2-3y+5)/x+5. Unless you are going to be an English teacher or a serious writer you aren’t going to need how to separate a sentence into 30 different parts, such as nouns, verbs, adjective, pronouns, dangling participles, antecedents, clauses, modifiers… It’s useless! Look at that show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? These people, who have great jobs, cannot answer these questions. Why? Nobody remembers this junk. As far as blaming the teachers for low test scores, there are so many bad parents that don’t teach their children any manners, let alone get involved with their school work, so the teachers can only do so much.

  9. My child took the Algebra 1 Keystone in May of her 8th grade year(2013), and even though she always scores advanced on the PSSA’s in math and is in the top 3 in her math class, our school (Not Philly area) sent home a letter today that she didn’t meet the target for proficiency on the Keystone and that she will be required to attend an after-school program every Thursday from 2:30-5:15, starting this week, until she can retake it again in December of her now 9th grade year. If she doesn’t meet proficient on the December exam, the math team leader/school district is saying she will be “enrolled in a supplemental math course during the spring semester in addition to the after-school program.” Am I the only one that thinks this is ridiculous?

    • Elle

      No, you’re not ridiculous. This whole teaching to the test is ridiculous. You may want to consider checking into whether or not it is mandatory for her to take the tests? In my area, it is only mandatory for students to take the exams their 11th grade year, and you can have them dismissed from that too for “religious” purposes. Good luck to your daughter, as well as to you. It’s parents like you that will make the difference.

  10. PS

    Teaching Algebra 1 should get better in schools , Additionally, the books that Schools use for Algebra 1 are not realistic to the Keystone exam. Its great that PA is trying to improve the standards of education to prepare our kids to meet the challeges globally.The revamp has to start from ground up.

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