2009-08-20 / Local & State

Pa. Education Board OKs New High-School Tests

By Peter Jackson ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The state Board of Education on Thursday approved proposed new tests to measure Pennsylvania students' competence to graduate from high school.

The 14-2 vote clears the way for months of regulatory review of the proposed Keystone Exams, including scrutiny by the Legislature, where critics still could block the new requirements if they can muster majority support in both houses.

The Keystone Exams, developed after two years of discussion and revision, would replace the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests now administered in the 11th grade.

Students would take the exams on specific subjects as they complete their course work throughout their high school years - generally grades nine through 12. The scores would count as at least one-third of their final grade.

Proponents say the Keystones would more effectively measure student progress toward meeting statewide academic standards, reducing district to-district discrepancies evident under the present system, while allowing local districts to substitute their own tests with state approval.

Board Chairman Joe Torsella said the proposal will ensure "every Pennsylvania graduate, in every corner of the state, leaves high school with the tools he or she needs and deserves.''

Mollie O'Connell Phillips, who cast one of the dissenting votes, reiterated that she considers the plan an unnecessary expense and unwise because of recent improvements in scores on existing tests, but vowed to work with fellow board members to make the new tests work.

"I don't want to take my ball and go home,'' she said.

Students entering the seventh grade this year - future members of the high-school class of 2015 - would be the first to be covered by the proposed Keystone requirements.

Under the proposal, Keystone exams in English literature, algebra I and biology would be introduced in 2010-11. From 2011- 12 to 2015-16, exams in English composition, algebra II, geometry and U.S. History would be added. Exams for chemistry, civics and world history would complete the list in 2016-17.

To receive a diploma, students ultimately would have to pass six of the 10 exams - two in English, two in math and one each in science and social-studies - or demonstrate academic proficiency through one of several alternative methods, including state-approved local tests.

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