State Board of Education approves exit exams
Thursday, August 13, 2009
By Tracie Mauriello, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HARRISBURG — A divided state Board of Education this morning approved a controversial proposal requiring students to take exit exams in core subject areas to receive high school diplomas.
The 14-2 vote sets the stage for the first exams to be given in 2010-11. Students in the Class of 2015 and beyond would be required to take them at the end of courses in core subject areas. Their scores would count for a least one-third of their course grades.
Those voting no were state Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks,and Mollie O’Connell Phillips, a former school counselor who lives in Luzerne County. Pittsburgh resident Jim Agras, president of Triangle Tech Group, abstained without explanation.
Opponents of the proposal are concerned that testing is expensive and that it would hold students back from graduating.
“A high school diploma is a gatekeeper to a job,” said Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of the Media Area Unit of the NAACP, which opposes the testing. She asked board members not to let the new testing system deprive students of one.
Supporters, meanwhile, say the new Keystone exams ensure that diplomas are meaningful and that academic standards are equitable.
The advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children has been one of the strongest proponents.
“This demonstrates our commitment to an equitable system of education,” said Joan Benso, its president. The best part of the regulation, she said, is that it guarantees remedial help for students who have trouble on the test.
Those who fail would have multiple chances to retake the test. The ones who still can’t would have the option instead to demonstrate proficiency through individual projects.
The plan now heads to the House and Senate Education Committees. If the committees approve or take no action, the plan heads to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which ensures it does not conflict with other regulations or statutes. If the committees vote no, the Legislature would have an opportunity to block implementation with majority votes in both chambers.
Education officials say that’s unlikely because the Senate Education Committee already passed a resolution in support of the exit exams.
“There are still hurdles, but the biggest hurdle was today,” said Board of Education Chairman Joe Torsella.