Pa. delays graduation exam requirement
By Steven Hoffman
Gov. Tom Wolf last week signed Senate Bill 880 into law, delaying for two years the use of Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for high school seniors in Pennsylvania.
At Monday night's Kennett School Board meeting, the news of the delay was regarded positively by district officials.
In his Legislative Council report, school board member Doug Stirling explained that state officials have now delayed the implementation of the Keystone Exams as a requirement for graduation until at least the 2018-2019 school year. The graduation requirement was supposed to go into effect for the 2016-2017 school year.
Superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti said that while he is very much in favor of testing as a method of ensuring that students are achieving at high levels, he is glad that the Keystone Exams won't be a graduation requirement for current high school juniors when they become seniors in the 2016-2017 school year. Those students were eighth-graders when the graduation requirement was first approved by state officials in 2011.
A significant number of students across the state are currently not able to attain proficiency on the Keystone Exams in Algebra 1, Biology, and English/Language Arts. These tests are aligned to the Common Core Standards. School districts are required to offer supplemental instruction to students who don't score proficient on the Keystone Exams in an effort to enable them to reach proficiency.
Tomasetti noted that when state officials approved the concept of Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement, some funding was made available to school districts to provide extra assistance to students who need it. But the students who were to be a part of the first class that would be required to pass the exams in order to graduate were already in the eighth grade by then, and the extra help should have been started years earlier.
“We needed the funding when those students were in kindergarten,” Tomasetti said.
The legislation that delayed the use of Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement also requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to investigate alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency for graduation beyond just the use of the Keystone Exams. One alternative method for demonstrating proficiency in the standards is the Project Based Assessment (PBA), which was designed primarily as an alternative for students who had difficulty with the Keystone testing format. But the administration and scoring of these PBAs can be expensive and time-consuming for school districts. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is expected to present a report of its findings within six months.
Tomasetti explained that the Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) has already introduced a number of initiatives to serve its diverse student population. A Parent Engagement Task Force has been set up to explore ways to make sure the district and families are working together to make sure that the needs of students are being met. District officials are also analyzing how they teach English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. KCSD has also extended opportunities for students to attend summer school to work on specific areas where they need extra help. Last year, Tomasetti said, 250 elementary school students took part in summer school classes.
In other business at the meeting, the school board approved a school calendar for the 2016-2017 school year. The calendar provides for 182 days of instruction, starting on Aug. 29 and tentatively scheduled to conclude on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Graduation is tentatively scheduled for Friday, June 9, 2017.
In addition to the student days, the instructional staff members will have eight in-service days for 190 days of employment in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Kennett School Board had a second reading and adopted as policy new regulations pertaining to the Wall of Kennett Legends at Kennett High School Legacy Fields. This was previously established as the district's way to recognize those people whose unique achievements, devotion, and commitment to excellence benefited the school district.
The new policy includes a formal nominating process. The nomination will be made on an official nomination form. This nomination form will be accepted for a three-month period, from Feb. 1 to April 30, each year. The nomination must be signed by at least 15 individuals, five of whom must be current or former district employees or current or former school board members. A minimum of two letters of recommendation must accompany the nomination form. The nominee can't be a current school board member or employee.
The district will establish a Kennett Legends Committee which will consist of nine individuals. The committee will make the recommendation to the board about who will be recognized with a plaque on the Wall of Kennett Legends.
The committee will be comprised of the distict superintendent, three school board members, the president or an active member of the Kennett Consolidated School District Alumni Association, two active employees, and two residents in the community.
The committee will meet annually to review the recommendations for recognition.
The stated goal of the committee, according to the policy, will be to “exercise prudent judgment to limit the Kennett Legends to a small, elite distingushed group of worthy individuals. After discussing the merits of each nomination, the committee will vote by secret ballot that will reflect only if the member votes in the affirmative or in the negative on the recommendation that the individual be recognized. In any given year, no more than one individual may be recommended to the school board. The school board is not bound by the recommendation of the committee, but will take the reconmendation into consideration in its determination as to whether the the recognition should be granted or not.
The school board will meet again on Monday, March 14 at 7 p.m. in the District Office.