This September will mark the first year the Keystone Exams will be used as the deciding factor for whether or not students will graduate from Pennsylvania’s public high schools.
September will also mark the five-year anniversary of HR 456, the bipartisan legislation that urged Gov. Ed Rendell to cease all funding and implementation of high-school graduation requirements. I was a co-sponsor of this legislation, along with 80% of my colleagues in the House of Representatives.
Pennsylvania is home to 500 school districts and approximately 1.8 million students. Each child that is enrolled in one of these school districts is different than the next child; they learn differently, they face different challenges, they excel in different areas, and they test differently. They are the 1.8 million reasons as to why the one-size-fits-all approach to education is wrong.I believe we should have standards for our schools and all stakeholders should be held accountable to these standards. However, I believe the best judges of a student’s progress should be those who know the student best; parents, teachers, school administrators and school boards. No Child Left Behind was wrong; it took the focus off the individual student and placed it on testing. The Keystone Exams takes this one step further. Rather than targeting the school for low test scores, it targets and penalizes the child.
The Keystone Exams were first introduced as the Graduation Competency Assessments on Jan. 2, 2008. The Senate and House delivered an overwhelming, bipartisan response of opposition by placing a moratorium on the Rendell Administration with the passage of Act 61 of Jul. 9, 2008, Section 117, which specifically prohibited the promulgation, approval, or proposal of “a regulation to change or establish high-school graduation requirements.” However, the Dept. of Education ignored this moratorium and issued a solicitation request to begin the development of GCAs.
Republican leadership in the House and Senate continued to urge the Governor to cease implementation, but it fell on deaf ears as the GCA morphed into the Keystone Exams and a contract for more than $200 million was signed with Data Recognition Corp.
On Sep. 30, 2009, the State Board of Education took a vote to approve high-school graduation requirements. The majority and minority chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees sit on the State Board of Education. State Rep. Paul Clymer, Republican Chairman for the House Education Committee, was the only legislator to vote no.
As federal and state government assume more control of education, local control diminishes. The personal face behind these tests fades away as these children become numbers. We are presented with data to debate over why some districts are reporting more progress than others. We do not know the personal story of each child behind the data; this is the exact reason we have school boards.
Out of Pennsylvania’s 500 school boards, fewer than 20 expressed support for the Keystone Exams.
Five years ago, the General Assembly was denied the opportunity to vote on the Keystone Exams and now we are at a critical turning point for education in Pennsylvania. This September our children will be equipped with a No. 2 pencil and a bubble sheet as their future weighs in the balance instead of with the local school district, where it belongs.
Barrar represents the 160th House Dist. in Delaware and Chester Cos.