Many Woodland Hills students will be doing some brainwork this morning as they begin to take the Keystone Exams for the first time.
All 10th- and 11th-grade students will be taking three exams this week and next. All seniors and freshmen (except those ninth-grade students who have completed the algebra I class and are taking the algebra exam this week), will run on a three-hour delay schedule on the days the tests are administered.
According to state Department of Education, Keystone Exams will be used for two purposes:
- To meet the proposed state requirement that the class of 2017 and beyond demonstrate proficiency for the purpose of graduation.
- To provide accountability as per the No Child Left Behind as measured by adequate yearly progress (AYP). The state's Keystone Exams will now be the sole indicator of the high school's performance—and will determine the district's AYP (adequate yearly progress) status and school ranking
But this year, district Deputy Superintendent Alan Johnson isn't really thinking about AYP status.
He said the district's focus is on getting administration of the test together—including changing the schedule for students not taking the test to a later start time so there are an adequate number of teachers available to help supervise.
"This is our test run," Johnson said. "We just want to get the mechanics of giving the test down."
The actual number of students taking the test is nearly double that for the PSSAs because the test is given by course enrollment and not grade level. Students will take the test in the year they are enrolled in the class.
For Woodland Hills students, there will be three exams administered this month. Wednesday and Thursday are algebra I, followed by biology next Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 14 and 15, and then literature next Thursday and Friday, Jan. 17 and 18.
The new exams are one component of Pennsylvania’s new system of high school graduation requirements and will help school districts guide students toward meeting state standards. They replace the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, which students have taken for the last decade.
"The PSSA tests were cumulative in nature," said Alan Johnson, Woodland Hills deputy superintendent. "They were very broad based."
Johnson explained that the math PSSA exam for 11th graders included algebra I and II, trigonometry and some calculus in an attempt to summarize everything a student learned from eighth-grade on. The Keystone test students are taking this week will focus exclusively on algebra I.
"The Keystones are completely about content," Johnson said, adding because they are more specific, they are also more rigorous. "The Keystones are meant to be taken when you take the class."
The tests require more time to take and go more in-depth than the PSSAs. But on the good side, Johnson said, because the exams are limited to a single course, the district can tailor preparation for the test more specifically.
But the new exams have raised a number of questions and issues that the district—and others in the state—will have to address.
"We're really not sure how this is being implemented by the state," Johnson said. "There's still a great deal in flux that we're learning about."
Because the exams are required for graduation, there is still a question about options if the student repeatedly fails the exam. Johnson said a local assessment might be an option to enable a student to graduate but those requirements are not yet laid out.
There has been a tendency to push algebra I down to the seventh-grade level with the thought that it was best to introduce the skills sooner rather than later, Johnson said. But with the Keystone Exams, even though that student might take the test in seventh grade, it will not be counted for AYP purposes until that student is in 11th grade.
Johnson said that gap can affect a district's AYP score. If a student from another school district moves in between taking the test and when it's counted—and the score also transfers—it could negatively impact Woodland Hills, which had no part in that student's education at that time.
It also has district officials looking at when to offer algebra I, since the instruction that takes place prior to ninth grade would affect the high school scores, even though it was taught in another secondary building.
Johnson said he wishes the state had implemented the Keystone Exams over the PSSAs "years ago." He said the new tests are coming late in the No Child Left Behind game, given that the law provides that all students must be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
"I think that ultimately this is a better system for assessing students than the PSSAs were," he said.
For more information about the Keystone Exams for Woodland Hills, click here.