Pa. Senate approves delay in Keystone exams

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Joe Proietta, founder and CEO of Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School, works with Yerlitza Ortolaza,17, as she prepares for the Keystone Exams in her high school math class on April 30, 2015. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday that would delay by two years a requirement that high school students pass Pennsylvania's Keystone exams to graduate.

Under the plan, the proficiency tests - in algebra 1, biology, and literature - will not go in effect for incoming freshmen until the 2018-19 school year.

Some people would like to see the exams postponed indefinitely.

"I would have liked to have seen a bill passed that ended the Keystones, period, but that's not possible at this stage," said Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) who cosponsored the bill with Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster), chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

What Senate Bill 880 does is give legislators more time to come up with a way to help schools pay for remediation and project-based assessments for students who fail the exam, he said.

Schools are required to give those students extra help and then provide a project to work on if they fail the test twice. Critics said the cost of those programs would be a huge burden for many districts and impossible for poor ones.

Dinniman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he expected the bill to be taken up by the House in the next few weeks and eventually be signed by Gov. Wolf.

"Everyone understands that structurally, the system that was set up for those who did not pass the Keystones was impossible to do," he said.

School officials have long argued against the proficiency exams, saying they pose problems such as higher dropout rates and costs. Nearly every superintendent in the region urged lawmakers not to adopt the plan, which was approved as part of Pennsylvania Core standards, similar to the national Common Core.


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