Eugene DePasquale (copy)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale meets with the LNP Editorial Board in July 2018.

Keystone Exams have worn out their welcome in Pennsylvania, the state’s top fiscal watchdog declared this week.

But not everyone, including some Lancaster County school officials, agrees with his idea to eliminate them.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in a report released Wednesday said Keystone Exams, which — which test high school students on algebra, biology and literature — should be replaced with the PSAT or SAT.

“Pennsylvania should aggressively explore using a nationally recognized test that can open new doors for students rather than continuing to spend money on an exam that is no longer required,” DePasquale said.

The Keystones haven’t been federally required since the replacement of No Child Left Behind in 2015, he said.

Pennsylvania, he added, will have spent $100 million on the Keystone Exams from 2015 to 2021. The state could save at least $1 million annually if it paid to administer the PSAT and SAT to all public high school students rather than the Keystones, DePasquale said. The students would take the PSAT and SAT at no charge.

Lancaster County school officials told LNP that standardized tests often place an undue burden on students and teachers, but swapping out the Keystones for a test built to gauge college readiness perhaps isn’t the best solution, they said.

“I agree that the Keystone Exams need replacing and that there is likely a more cost-efficient state testing system to be found,” Eastern Lancaster County Superintendent Bob Hollister said. “However, requiring all students to take a test specifically designed as a predictor of college success makes no educational sense whatsoever.”

Hollister said it would be similar to a future nurse taking an entrance exam for a welding program.

Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter expressed similar doubts, saying switching tests could be destructive to classroom instruction already geared toward the Keystones.

“Our schools, students and teachers need a reliable statewide exam that will stand the test of time and will not be subject to a change in the political climate of the moment,” he said.


Standardized testing reforms

Standardized testing in Pennsylvania has undergone significant changes of late.

The Keystone Exams were originally intended to become a graduation requirement, but legislation passed in 2016 delayed the requirement until the 2019-20 school year. Lawmakers later extended it to 2020-21 before providing permanent alternative pathways to graduation last year for those who don’t perform well on the the Keystones.

They’ve also shortened testing time for students taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.

Matthew Stem, deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said DePasquale’s report “ignores” such reforms.

Stem added that he’s open to considering an alternative high school exam, “provided the process is educationally sound, fiscally responsible, compliant with federal law, and allows Pennsylvania educators to continue to apply their professional judgment.”

But not everyone’s sold on the solution being the PSAT or SAT, as DePasquale suggested.

Solanco Superintendent Brian Bliss said the auditor general’s proposal leaves “a number of unanswered questions.”

“Whatever the final outcome, he said, “we are hopeful we will see increased stability regarding testing and graduation requirements moving forward.”