EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, August 14, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    State Senate
    State Board of Education
    EPLC News

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.



    State Senate

  • The Pennsylvania Senate adopted a number of non-preferred appropriations bills this week, including legislation (House Bill 1419) which provides for the operating expenses of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) for FY 2009-2010.  Last week, Gov. Rendell authorized a spending bill to ensure state workers get paid, however, this legislation applied only to state employees who are paid out of the state’s General Fund.  The non-preferred appropriations now approved by the House and Senate will ensure that state employees who are paid from other sources, such as retirement system employees, receive their paychecks.

  • The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on school consolidation at St. Francis University (Loretto, Pa.) on August 7.  Click here for testimony presented to the Committee.

  • State Board of Education

    On Thursday (August 13), the State Board of Education gave its approval to Chapter 4 (Academic Standards and Assessment) final regulations which establish new high school graduation requirements. The regulations will provide new ways in which school districts can fulfill high school graduation requirements.

    Currently, each district’s graduation requirements must include course completion and grades, completion of a culminating project and demonstration of proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics on the 11th grade PSSA or on alternative local assessments aligned with the PSSA and state standards.

    Beginning with the graduating class of 2014-2015, school districts may voluntarily use one or more Keystone Exams as final course exams or locally-approved and independently-validated assessments to demonstrate a student’s level of proficiency in core academic areas.  The plan would also allow successful completion of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate coursework and exams to be used instead of Keystone Exams to demonstrate a student’s academic proficiency.

    The regulations require the state to provide ten end-of-course exams, beginning with English literature, algebra 1 and biology in 2010-11, with other English, math, science and social studies subjects being phased in through 2016-17.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) will seek approval of the U.S. Department of Education to replace the current 11th grade PSSA tests in reading and math with Keystone Exams in English literature and Algebra I.  Upon such approval, all high school students will take these two Keystone Exams at the end of the appropriate course work for school and school district AYP accountability under NCLB.

    The tests would be administered to all public school districts in Pennsylvania, including charter schools, but would not apply to private or parochial schools.

    The exams would count for one third of the student’s final course grade. Unlike the earlier Keystone Exams proposals, the regulation removes the high stakes aspect of the tests but they still will hold a significant weight toward the student’s final grade. Students who score below basic on a Keystone Exam would earn zero points on the exam, which would be calculated as such in the final course grade.

    The regulation gives discretion to local school boards to permit students who score at the advanced level on a particular Keystone Exam (prior to taking the course) to be given credit for that subject and exemption from taking the course.

    Students who do not pass one or more of the Keystone Exams or validated local assessments required for graduation would be offered supplemental instruction. Students would be permitted to retake any Keystone Exam or a module in which they did not score proficient. The new plan also takes into consideration the need for appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities and English language learners.

    An alternative path that uses a project-based assessment would be made available to students who have met their district’s attendance requirements and participated in supplemental education services, but have not passed one or more required courses for graduation. These projects would be given at the local level, but scored by a regional panel composed of teachers, principals and curriculum specialists. In addition to the project assessment alternative, the new plan would allow the Secretary of Education to waive one or more provisions on a case-by-case basis for students who experience extenuating circumstances.

    Districts that choose not to use the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement may use locally approved, administered and independently validated assessments. The validation costs would be shared equally by PDE and the local district. If appropriations provided by law are not sufficient to allow PDE to fund its share, the local assessments submitted for validation would be deemed valid for the balance of the strategic plan period until a new or mid-point update to the strategic plan is due to PDE.  

    PDE would provide model curricula, diagnostic assessments and instructional resources aligned with the state standards that school districts may use voluntarily.

    The regulation calls for local and state assessment validation advisory committees to be established. At least once every five years, PDE would contract with an independent research organization to determine the degree to which the Keystone Exams and performance cut scores are valid and aligned with state academic standards.

    The Board received several public comments from education organizations representing school boards, principals, superintendents and curriculum specialists vocalizing their opposition to certain aspects of the regulations.  Among their concerns are the weighting of the Keystone Exams and unexpected costs to local districts.  Others in support of the regulations, including student representatives on the State Board of Education, highlighted the plan’s emphasis on having assessments directly and closely linked to instruction and having the same expectations for all students, noting the remediation and alternative assessment opportunities for students who may not score proficient on the exams. 

    The regulations now move to the House and Senate Education Committees and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) for their consideration.  The Education committees can vote to approve or take no action on the regulations.  If both Committees disapprove the regulations, then the legislature will have an opportunity to halt their implementation.  However, a negative vote is not expected as the Senate Education Committee has already approved a resolution supporting the new high school graduation requirements and Keystone Exams.  Upon IRRC approval, the regulation becomes final and enforceable following publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.



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  • SAVE THE DATE!  EPLC’s 2009 Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium will be held on Thursday, November 12, at the Wildwood Conference Center at Harrisburg Area Community College.  More information soon.

  • EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

    The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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