In this LNP Archive photo, Conestoga Valley students take benchmark tests for the Keystone Exams.


A bipartisan bill proposed last week in the state Senate would give high school students alternative pathways to graduation other than demonstrating proficiency on Keystone Exams, LNP staff writer Alex Geli reported Tuesday. “Students would still take the Keystone Exams under the proposal,” Geli noted, “but they’d arguably be under significantly less pressure to perform well on them.” Senate Bill 1095 was proposed by Republican state Sen. Thomas McGarrigle, who represents parts of Chester and Delaware counties. Fellow Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument, of Landisville, is one of the bill’s 11 co-sponsors. Nine of the co-sponsors are Republicans; two are Democrats.

They had us at “bipartisan.”

Our lawmakers in the state Capitol don’t work often enough together, but we’re glad some of them have found common cause in Senate Bill 1095, because it’s a good one.

The problem with standardized tests like Keystone Exams is that they are, well, standardized. They’re one-size-fits-all products — and we do mean products — for school populations that are as varied as their students.

And some kids, including intellectually gifted kids, don’t fare well on these exams. The pressure of all those tiny circles waiting to be filled in with No. 2 pencils may induce anxiety in some students. Others may learn well, but their brains take some time producing what they’ve learned. Standardized tests require students’ brains to retrieve learned information quickly so it can be applied quickly (even if a child is granted additional testing time, his score may not accurately reflect what he’s learned).

Recognizing that, this bill would permit students to graduate under one of the following conditions:

— A student meets or exceeds a composite score across Keystone Exams in algebra, biology and literature, and demonstrates at least basic performance on each of the three exams.

— A student meets or exceeds grade requirements in algebra, biology and literature and completes an Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude test; gets accepted into a registered apprentice program; or attains a National Career Readiness Certificate.

— A student meets or exceeds grade requirements in algebra, biology and literature and presents at least three pieces from her portfolio that provide “rigorous and compelling” evidence that reflects readiness for graduation.

As Aument told LNP, “Standardized assessment has a role in our system, but it ought not be the only measure used to determine student achievement.”

We agree completely.

McGarrigle’s bill has drawn support from organizations including the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Pennsylvania State Education Association — groups that don’t always agree.

David Zuilkoski, superintendent of Conestoga Valley School District, sees the measure as returning some control to school districts.

“By allowing the districts to determine a student’s college and/or career readiness, the best decisions can be made at the local level regarding each individual student,” Zuilkoski told Geli in an email.

Elizabethtown Area School District Assistant Superintendent Robert Dangler appreciated that the bill would “create other viable” alternatives for students, but he expressed concern over what he foresees could be a potentially “confusing web of pathways” for students and their families to consider.

We know this is easy for us to say, but that doesn’t seem an insurmountable issue for school personnel. Standardized testing information, it’s true, can seem byzantine and overwhelming to parents who didn’t major in education, but these alternatives could be clearly delineated by educators.

Career and technology students already have been exempted from needing to pass Keystone Exams in order to graduate. The legislation lifting that requirement also drew bipartisan support and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in June.

And the road to making success in the Keystone Exams a graduation requirement has been a long and confusing one. Implementation of that requirement first was delayed until 2019 and then, in November, it was put off yet another year — until 2020.

At this point, a primer on Keystone Exams (perhaps titled "Seven Things Parents and Students Ought to Know") would probably be a good idea.

We’re not opposed to standardized testing. We believe it can serve to alert school officials to struggling students — and teachers.

But we also think it’s been responsible for dampening creativity in education in recent years. We believe it’s given rise to twisted priorities at some schools.

And we believe, strongly, that a student heading for a bright future shouldn’t be waylaid by a single test.

For that reason most of all, we hope Senate Bill 1095 draws more support from Republicans and Democrats alike.


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