Reasonable but firm requirements needed for high school grads

We want you to consider which of these options should be required for high school students in Pennsylvania to graduate:

5 Meet a state Education Department-driven composite score on three exams, but require students to achieve a proficient score on at least one exam and at least a basic score on the other two.

5 Achieve passing grades in their classes and passing scores on an alternative assessment such as the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) or ACT (American College Testing) or even just getting admitted into a post-secondary education (college or tech and/or specialty schools).

5 Demonstrate competency through course grades or attain an industry-recognized credential for career technical education students.

5 Present evidence of graduation readiness through other means including acceptance into an apprenticeship program, landing full-time employment in a field consistent with a student’s portfolio, completing an internship, or satisfactory completion of a community service project.

These four points are among the options being considered by Gov. Tom Wolf’s Education Department in the wake of the governor announcing that he’ll sign legislation allowing for alternate ways for students to graduate other than having to pass the Keystone Exams.

Legislation delaying the Keystone Exam mandate sits before the state Senate.

The bill is in line with recommendations from the state. Last year, the governor made changes to the state’s regimen of standardized tests to reduce their impact and length.

Under the bill, use of the Keystone Exams is delayed until 2021-22.

Meanwhile, it tasks state education officials with developing a proficiency standard for students taking the test, and gives school districts the ability to develop alternative ways for students to demonstrate proficiency without taking the test.

Some history: The state Board of Education in 2009 adopted the regulations that made passing the Keystone Exams a graduation requirement. Employers, retired military officers, and higher education officials all supported the move to make a high school diploma more meaningful.

The state board set 2016-2017 as the year that passing the Keystone Exams would begin to be a graduation requirement. Twice, though, the Legislature delayed its implementation after catching heat from parents and education officials over the testing mandate.

In 2016, the governor signed House Bill 202, known as Act 6, into law. The bill amended the Public School Code to allow students in career and technology education (CTE) to demonstrate proficiency and readiness for high school graduation in an alternative pathway, and removed the statutory requirement for the Keystone Exam on that student population.

Can Pennsylvania finally — with local school districts’ input — find reasonable graduation mandates … options?

For sure, testing is an effective tool to measure students’ comprehension.

But Pennsylvania has taken “teach to the test” too far.

In some districts, for example, the mandate has led to less focus and utilization of career and technology programming — the curriculums that train future plumbers, carpenters, cosmetologists, heavy equipment operators, welders, farmers, beauticians, daycare providers and more.

Gov. Wolf’s pending signature again delays things.

Reasonable but firm protocols are needed.

We emphasize the plural because, whatever is decided, there should not be a one-size-fits-all solution for our young people to graduate high school.

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