A bill that would eliminate a key component of the state's Common Core curriculum - passing proficiency tests to graduate from high school - was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester), his third attempt to send the tests to the back of the class.
Critics have argued that the tests represent an unfunded mandate for school districts and penalize students from underprivileged schools.
Dinniman, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has also sought funding for districts to administer the tests, and to limit the test subjects to biology, algebra, and language arts. Acting State Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq has said she would not increase the number of tests for the time being.
The state Board of Education in September approved the Keystones, as the proficiency tests are called, as a graduation requirement for the Common Core standards, a national initiative that sets proficiency requirements for kindergarten through 12th grade. The Common Core has been adopted by 45 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Students scheduled to graduate in 2017 will be required to pass the tests. If they fail, they can retake the tests. If they fail a second time, they could complete supplementary projects, but that would be noted on their diplomas, which opponents say would be a stigma.
When they were introduced in 2010, the Keystones were used only to identify students who needed extra help. Under Dinniman's bill, the tests would continue "but would be used for a real purpose, to figure out what [the] student needs help in," he said.
Joe Ciresi, president of the Spring-Ford Area School Board, said the mandate was a burden for all involved.
"It's a financial burden [for districts] and a stress on kids," Ciresi said after attending a forum last weekend on the topic that drew school officials, parents, and activists from Southeastern Pennsylvania. He also said it prevents teachers from "teaching to the whole child" because there's too much focus on testing.
Haverford school board member Lawrence A. Feinberg told attendees that teachers in his district spend 120 days preparing students for standardized tests.
"It hasn't been proven that this test makes kids any smarter," he said. Dinniman said he believed there was wide support for the bill.
Erik Arneson, chief of staff to Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said there was no timetable for the GOP-controlled chamber to consider the bill.
"It's an important issue, and senators will be eager to hear from constituents regarding the specific language in the bill," Arneson said in an e-mail.