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TV Smart Talk - PA Keystone Exams

Written by Nell McCormack Abom | Sep 19, 2012 12:00 PM

Just when we were all getting used to the Pennsylvania System of State Assessment, the PSSA, along comes the new kid on the block -- the Keystone Exam. Starting with the Class of 2017, students must score proficient or better in three subjects – Algebra 1, Literature and Biology – in order to graduate from high on computer.jpg Juniors will no longer take the PSSAs, although elementary and middle school students still will take them.  We'll examine the Keystone Exams and what they mean for your children on TV Smart Talk, Thursday night at 8 on witf TV.  Join the conversation!  Call 1-800-729-7532, email us at, post a comment here or to Facebook, or tweet @witfnews.

The State Board of Education adopted these new graduation requirements in August 2009 to "guarantee that a Pennsylvania diploma reflects the skills and knowledge graduating students need to be successful in college and the workplace." Initially, students were expected to demonstrate proficiency in six of 10 Keystone Exams in math, English, social studies and science. However, due to budget cuts and implementation problems, the Corbett administration reduced it to three exams. The switch to Keystone Exams represents a sweeping change in how we measure student achievement

“It is a more rigorous exam,” explains Tim Eller, press secretary for the state Department of Education and a guest on this week’s program. Eller says the PSSA takes a broader look at what a student has learned across multiple years of learning. “Instead, the Keystone Exam is more in-depth into one subject area, so it really tests the student’s mastery of Algebra 1, Biology and Literature. And then in future years, it’s going to be civics and government, and then composition. These tests are geared toward making and helping students become career and college-ready.” 

Jerry Oleksiak, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and a special education teacher in the Upper Merion Area School District, will be on the panel and share his insights on testing and assessments.  He has spent 35 years in the classroom.

Since the Keystone Exams are course-specific, students may take them whenever they have finished the course but in all cases by 11th grade.  They also may take the Keystone Exams multiple times to achieve proficiency. After two unsuccessful attempts, the student will have the opportunity to complete a project. The state has not finalized the parameters of what it calls a “rigorous” culminating project. 

Students now in grades 9 and 10, and all students who are enrolled in Algebra 1, Literature (they typically are taking English 2), or Biology courses, are required to take the Keystone Exam when they complete the courses. If the student scores proficient or better, their scores are banked until 11th grade for Adequate Yearly Progress calculations to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Law. The student does not have to take that exam again in these subjects. 

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, passed during President Bush's administration, ALL students must score proficient or better in reading and math by 2014 or their states face penalties. 

In a “field test” of the Keystone Exams in the 2010-11 school year, fewer than 50 percent of the 90,000 students taking them achieved at or above mastery of the content. The changes now working their way through the regulatory review process will allow districts two more years to refine their curriculum and prepare students for the new test requirements.

We’d love to hear from you. You can join the conversation in a variety of ways. Send us an email at, tweet @witfnews, post a comment here or to Facebook, or call in live during the program to 1-800-729-7532.

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Comments: 3

  • PamelaHarbin img 2012-09-20 09:07

    This is not the only new assessment for kids this year. According to the Pittsburgh Public Schools 2012-2013 K-12 Assessment Calendar the new GRADE Assessment (Keystone to Opportunities Grant) will be given to 3rd through 6th grade and 9th through 11th grade.

    PSSA Writing "field tests" are also on the assessment calendar for 3rd through 5th grade.

    Field tests? Really? Frankly, as a parent I'm disgusted. The teachers need more time to teach, not less. Let the testing companies pay children to field test their products. My children will not take a field test this year.

  • Than Nguyen img 2012-09-20 13:46

    The value to these computer based tests is helping teachers better tailor lesson plans to their students’ particular strengths and weaknesses. I fully support computer based testing because it will provide fair and precise evaluation of a student's competency.
    Than Nguyen

  • Than Nguyen img 2012-09-20 13:47

    The value to these computer based tests is helping teachers better tailor lesson plans to their students’ particular strengths and weaknesses. I fully support computer based testing because it will provide fair and precise evaluation of a student's competency.
    Than Nguyen

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