Keystone Exams, the controversial Pennsylvania high school graduation requirement, are about to get much less important.
State lawmakers this week passed legislation that would push back Keystone graduation requirements until 2022 and allow seniors to demonstrate mastery in other ways, such as gaining acceptance to a four-year college, securing full-time employment post-graduation, completing an internship, or earning a to-be-determined score on the SAT.
High school students across the commonwealth now take the exams in English, biology, and algebra.
It's a major shift for a state that once put a high priority on the tests, first proposed in 2009, originally supposed to be a graduation requirement for the Class of 2017, then pushed back for the Class of 2019.
Pennsylvania spent $70 million developing the exams, which were designed to prove students' readiness for college and career success.
"Requiring every student to pass the same type of exam wasn't working," said State Sen. Tom McGarrigle (R., Delaware County), a sponsor of the bill that passed Monday. "Each child learns differently, each child has a different career path."
The law doesn't do away with accountability, McGarrigle said, but allows students flexibility. Why, he said, should a student in a vocational program have to pass a biology exam if it has nothing to do with his or her chosen career path?
Teachers and administrators helped drive the policy, lawmakers said: Many school staffers have been clear about their disdain for the one-size-fits-all exams. (McGarrigle said he first decided to work on the legislation after listening to people at a Tredyffrin/Easttown school board meeting voice their concerns about the Keystones.)
"It didn't make sense for the poorer schools, and it didn't make sense for the wealthier schools," said State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), a vocal opponent of Keystones and sponsor of the bill. He called the tests "phony accountability that doesn't further our educational goals."
High-achieving districts resented the time the tests took, and felt the quality of their students' education spoke for itself. Keystones did not work for low-wealth districts either, Dinniman said.
"I thought it was outrageous that we would stamp 'failure' on the back of those students and teachers, when it was we in the legislature who created the problem in the first place by not properly funding schools in Philadelphia and other poorer districts in the commonwealth," Dinniman said. "How can you judge the worth of a student in three snapshots?"
Gov. Wolf is expected to sign the bill into law soon, a spokesperson said. It's part of a shift away from the importance of standardized tests: Last year, Wolf reduced the time Pennsylvania students spent taking the exams.
"Preparation for 21st century success cannot be measured just by performance on high-stakes tests," the governor said in a statement. "In an economy which demands multiple skill sets and includes varying educational pathways to good-paying jobs, students should have multiple ways to demonstrate that they are college- and career-ready."