Standardized testing to change for Pennsylvania students

Posted: June 09, 2013

HARRISBURG - New standards that would require high school seniors to pass multiple exams in order to graduate could be coming to a school district near you.

The administration recently delayed implementing the controversial "Common Core" standards, which specify what students should be expected to learn by certain grades, but education officials say Gov. Corbett wants to have them in place by fall.

The standards are a voluntary initiative adopted by 45 states that establish a single set of educational requirements for kindergarten through 12th grade in English, language arts, and mathematics.

In Pennsylvania, the standards have been criticized by some Democrats as an "unfunded mandate" and by some conservatives who fear they would open the state education system to federal oversight.

The Corbett proposal would tie passage of the existing Keystone exams to graduation. Beginning with the Class of 2017, high school seniors would need to pass exams in Algebra 1, biology, and literature to graduate.

Additional exams in composition, civics, and government will be added in later years.

The Corbett administration decided to create Pennsylvania-specific standards by melding together parts of the national standards with the state's own academic standards, choosing whichever was "more rigorous," said Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller.

Those standards were approved by the state Board of Education this spring and were slated to take effect on July 1. Corbett has said he is committed to ensuring they are in place by the start of the school year.

James Roebuck, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said the action is needed to even out graduation requirements across the state.

"They set a baseline against which all students would be able to progress, no matter what their situation," said Roebuck, of Philadelphia.

But Andrew Dinniman of Chester County, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, said implementing the standards will result in a $300 million unfunded mandate for new costs such as teacher training.

Dinniman has introduced legislation to block the standards from taking effect until financial concerns are resolved.

"In Philadelphia, we don't even know whether the schools will have the money to open, and the state is more concerned about graduation tests when there might not be any students to take the test," he said.

Haverford school board member Lawrence Feinberg said the standards are "misplaced" attempts to fix public education.

The biggest challenge facing public education is early literacy, he said, citing a study that says children who are not reading at grade level by third grade are less likely to graduate from high school.

School districts should direct money toward early literacy education rather than new curriculum development, textbooks, and teacher training for the Common Core standards, said Feinberg, who is cochairman of the advocacy Keystone Education Coalition.

One way or another, the state will begin implementing the standards next fall, said Eller, although they still need a final sign-off from the state Board of Education and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which reviews all proposed regulations.

The standards do not need legislative approval, but Rep. Paul Clymer (R., Bucks), chairman of the Education Committee, moved a resolution summarizing concerns about the standards this week. It now goes to the full House for approval.

Clymer said he would work with conservative lawmakers to alleviate any concerns that adoption of the standards could result in federal oversight.


Contact Megan Rogers at 717-787-5990 or, or follow on Twitter @MegRog.


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