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Kutztown School Board discussed making the Keystone Exam part of graduation requirements to motivate students to score proficiently when taking the new state required standardized test.
High school freshmen, sophomores and juniors will begin taking the Keystone Exams in Algebra 1, literature and biology in December and January.
“I feel, I know the bulk of my staff feels, we need to put some teeth into this to make it worth their while and ours,” said Kutztown High School Principal Rebecca Beidelman.
She suggested that students be required to achieve proficiency as established by the state, which is not set yet, and require they achieve 60 percent or better on a 0-100 point scale. She noted that in all cases of students with IEPs, proficiency and growth goals will be determined by the IEP team if different than the district requirements.
There will be multiple opportunities for students to receive remediation and retake sections of the exam, she said.
While in the past there was no incentive for students to do well on the PSSAs, Beidelman feels the motivation to score well on the Keystone is it will help students with getting into college and obtaining scholarships, like other standardized tests, such as the SATs and Advanced Placement.
Beidelman said this is an opportune time to establish standards and motivation for student performance and expectations.
Discussing the differences between the PSSA and the Keystones, Board member Al Darion said the issue with the PSSA was getting students to make an effort, not just fill in the blanks randomly.
“The Keystones is a different nature,” said Darion. “The Keystones are subject oriented which means that to do well you actually have to study, especially if you haven’t had Algebra for a year or more.”
This requires time, and Darion said he doesn’t know anyone who would devote the limited resource of time to something that does not count. If the test is going to achieve its purpose to get students to have the required standards of knowledge before they leave, he said they have to set a requirement.
“And if we don’t have a requirement that they reach proficiency, then there’s absolutely no reason for them to devote any effort,” said Darion.
Students have had the opportunity to work through sample Algebra questions, including School Board student representative Jordan Kemp.
“A lot of students had no idea how to do the problems because a lot of the material was stuff we learned three years ago,” said Kemp. “A lot of students really hate the Keystones because of the level of difficulty and the fact that a lot of kids haven’t seen this material.”
Kemp said the PSSAs were easier because that test included material they just learned in Algebra II, Geometry and Trig and didn’t have specific ideas and terms like the Keystones.
“The Keystones are so much more difficult just because it goes into such specific detail in comparison to the PSSAs,” said Kemp, noting the biggest issue was the students did not understand what the question was asking.
“Where the PSSAs were a little more recall, the Keystones is more problem solving so there’s a little unfamiliarity with the kind of question and how to answer,” said Beidelman. “Part of the art of taking a test is being able to understand the question, not necessarily recall the answer.”
Board members had some reservations making the Keystone Exam part of graduation requirements at this time.
“We don’t know what this test is going to look like, we don’t know what the rigor will be, don’t know what the cutoffs are,” said Darion.
On the other hand, Darion was in favor of making the exam part of the graduation requirement now rather than later.
“We can’t say, ‘Surprise! You’d better do well on this test or you’re not going to graduate,’” said Darion.
He recommended achieving the state required proficiency on the Keystone Exam be part of graduation requirement.
“But you don’t know what that’s going to be yet,” said Randy Burch. “The state may not establish that until after these tests are taken by a certain number of students.”
While they know the Keystone Exam will be more rigorous than the PSSAs, Burch said, “We’re going to be picking numbers in the dark for our students to achieve on a test that we know very little about yet or what the state requirements are going to be yet.”
Darion suggested making the requirement now to meet a certain level of proficiency, possibly 60 percent, and if it doesn’t work, change it later.
Burch believes changing the graduation requirement’s level of proficiency later may not be as easy as they think.
Amy Faust did not like the idea of changing the requirement level later because the incentive could lose its validity.
“We could have a lot of kids suffering the consequences because we didn’t get it right the first time,” said Faust.
Burch was also concerned that the district does not have any safety net provisions for their graduation requirement. He foresees a situation of a student with a great track record, B average or better but doesn’t take high stake tests well.
“Are we going to say to that student, who could be an honor roll student, ‘Sorry, you didn’t pass that test, you don’t graduate?’”
Burch agreed that they do need to give better incentive for students to take the Keystones, but was concerned about making a “knee-jerk reaction” and find they didn’t do something right.
Darion agreed with the safety net but still felt requirements could be changed later.
Superintendent Kathy Metrick suggested another option.
“The student must pass the Keystone Exam at the 60 percent or the district equivalent,” said Metrick. “If the student is not successful on the exam, we can figure out why.”
Did we not teach that? Or was it taught after the test? Did the student need more help? They can analyze the questions on the test, she said.
“The test is about the student meeting the standard, it’s not really about a score,” said Metrick, noting that the state putting the test on a 100-point scale gets in the way. “It’s about the student demonstrating proficiency on the standards.”
If a student is not successful, Metrick said all they need to do is give the student repeat opportunities on the standards on which they were not proficient.
Beidelman noted that if a student does not pass a section, the student does not need to retake the entire exam, just retake that section after receiving remediation.
“If a student is not successful on the Keystone Exam on certain standards, we should be able to come up with a district equivalent,” said Metrick.
The equivalent to the Keystone standard could be part of a test in a class, hands on experience assessment and any other measurement, said Metrick. Because the district hasn’t aligned the curriculum across the board yet completely to the standards, there might be a standard that has not been taught yet or not measured in time for the test.
“This would give us the safety net,” said Burch, who feels it is important to give students an incentive to do well on the test but he sees a lot of problems with the Keystones.
Metrick agreed. They can set the requirement of meeting proficiency, which is required by law, and holds students accountable and gives the district an equivalent if a standard is not met.
Beidelman is in favor of having an alternative.
The school board directed Metrick to write a proposal to present to the board regarding the graduation requirement with an equivalent.