By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The Avon Grove School District is one of 58 school districts in Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Berks counties that have signed a letter asking the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission to vote against the long-delayed Keystone Graduation Exams on Nov. 21.

Many local districts have passed resolutions opposing the Keystone Exams. The letter that was signed by 58 of 61 superintendents cited a number of concerns about the Keystone Exams, ranging from the unfunded costs—estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars statewide—to the lack of direction from the Pennsylvania Department of Education over how to implement and use the Keystone Exams. Other concerns include educators’ views that the high-stakes tests are inherently unfair and that there is a negative impact on students’ learning when so much time is spent preparing for and taking standardized tests.

Some residents in the Avon Grove School District have expressed concerns about the Keystone Exams. At the Nov. 14 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese said that the district is analyzing is the possible costs of administering the exams.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, who is the minority chairman of the Education Committee, issued a press release last week that quoted West Chester Area School District officials saying that the district's costs for the biology Keystone Exam alone was estimated at $250,000.

“School boards and top school officials from Avon Grove to Norristown to West Chester call the Keystone Graduation Exams an unfunded mandate that will rob local taxpayers of money and students of important classroom time,” Dinniman stated in the release. “While we are all for accountability and we are all for higher academic standards, we stand united against the Keystone Graduation Exams and the bogus hope they give in the false name of accountability and higher standards.”

Keystone Exams were originally designed as end-of-course exams. High school students were required to take Keystone Exams in biology, literature, and algebra in 2012. Students who did not score proficient on the exams were retested, increasing the amount of time that students and teachers spent on the exams.

In the letter signed by superintendents that urge for the Keystone Exams to be rejected, it was noted that it is estimated that about $300 million annually would be needed to administer the Keystone Exams statewide, and that burden would fall on local taxpayers. Schools also estimate that between 10 percent and 20 percent of the school year would be spent preparing for and taking standardized tests.

In urging the state General Assembly not to require Keystone Exams as graduation requirements, the superintendents wrote that the Pennsylvania Department of Education  and the General Assembly should seek additional information and suggested solutions from school districts and intermediate units.

The letter concluded: “The costs associated with the implementation of the Keystone Exams and delayed communication about Pennsylvania’s changing accountability system has negatively impacted districts, students, and their families. School districts are concerned that the financial and student impact will become even more pronounced in the future as districts implement supplemental instruction and Keystone project-based assessments.”