Keystone exam strategy doesn’t pass the test

School districts and the professional educators they employ should decide whether a student is ready for graduation, not a state or federal bureaucrat or a testing service.

Tests are indispensable in determining students’ mastery of subject matter, but a student’s graduation should not hinge on whether he or she passes a single test developed by outsiders without local input.

There’s much to consider on the issue of readiness for graduation, and it involves more than one or a couple of scores emanating from a particular test. And, lo and behold, what qualifies lawmakers who often have difficulty accomplishing even their most basic legislative responsibilities to be judge and jury regarding students’ graduation qualifications?

A place exists amid the overall educational spectrum for state-mandated standardized tests to measure student achievement and, thus, how well school districts are doing their job. But on the question of whether a student should be allowed to graduate, that’s for each school district to decide, not Harrisburg or Washington.

Teaching for such tests at the expense of other valuable instruction is not what teachers should be doing.

As previously determined by the Pennsylvania Legislature, members of the Class of 2017 were targeted to be the first whose graduation would depend on passing the Keystone Exams.

However, under a bill passed unanimously by the Senate on Monday, implementation of that requirement would be delayed for two years, making the Class of 2019 the first for which the requirement would apply.

The bill now goes to the state House, which should fast-track approval of the measure.

In conjunction with that, the entire Keystone Exams picture needs a fresh examination encompassing participation by all components of the educational sector.

What lawmakers first envisioned in approving the beefed-up graduation requirement years ago wasn’t built upon a full understanding of all that’s at stake, including how some worthy students’ futures could be derailed unnecessarily, albeit temporarily.

Some of the points that the pass-the-test-or-else mentality ignores is that some students are not good test-takers, and not all students do well in all of the Keystone Exams’ areas of testing, which include algebra, biology and literature.

The graduation of a future carpenter, plumber, vehicle technician or member of the nation’s armed forces shouldn’t be temporarily scuttled because of disinterest or less-than-optimal performance in biology or literature.

Meanwhile, many students who don’t excel in high school move on to successful college and work careers, while some top high school students, because of bad decisions, end up failures on the higher-education and work fronts.

West Chester Superintendent Jim Scanlon says the exams don’t just put graduation in danger, but the entire educational experience, and he probably is correct.

Statewide, the passage rate for the exams, given without impacting graduation, has been reported to be just 54 percent. The requirement to pass the exams probably would drive down graduation rates throughout the state.

Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts can do a better job in preparing students for the future, but they shouldn’t have to do it with the proverbial gun to their heads that the Keystone Exams’ graduation impact epitomizes.

Rather than delaying the requirement to 2019, the General Assembly should permanently kill it, then seek more meaningful ways to improve educational quality.

-The Altoona Mirror