New Keystone exams to replace PSSA test for high school juniors

  • By Dawn Goodman

    For the Observer-Reporter
December 1, 2012
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Robin Richards / Observer-Reporter
The day’s algebra lesson is projected on the face of Trinity High School math teacher Paul Reihner. Order a Print
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Robin Richards/Observer-Reporter Trinity High School student Paige Galentine solves a problem in Paul Reihner’s algebra class as part of preparation for the new Keystone examination.

Area school district administrators say curricula are being changed in preparation for the new Keystone exams, which school districts will begin administering to high school juniors this month.

The new state exams in Algebra 1, literature and and biology, which will replace the 11th-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment as a measure of academic progress, will be given to high school students in the same year they complete those courses in coming years. But this year, all 11th-graders will take the exams, even if they took the courses a year or two ago.

Beginning with the Class of 2017, students will have multiple chances to take the state tests and must pass them to graduate.

Trinity Assistant Superintendent Michael Lucas said the district’s staff is rewriting the curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade in every content area this year.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” he said, adding that core content areas were completed over the summer.

He said the curriculum has been aligned to the Common Core Standards, which are designed to provide a common understanding of what students need to know, no matter what state they live in. The standards, which have been adopted in all but five states, outline what is needed for success in college and the workplace, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

“It’s really changed instruction,” Lucas said. “It’s more uniform in all classes.”

He said this will not be the end of the curriculum revision. It will be ongoing.

“It’s a living, breathing document,” he said.

As a part of that process, Trinity decided to eliminate its “academic” track, Lucas said. Students in that track would not get enough rigorous coursework to do well on the exam, he said.

Districts will still offer the PSSA in grades three through eight. Lucas said the Keystones are subject specific, unlike the PSSA. For example, the Algebra I Keystone will only be about that subject while the 11th-grade math PSSA was about a variety of math – algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

West Greene Supertintendent Thelma Szarell said the state determined that the PSSAs did not prove to be an efficient measure of student performance at the high school level. Instituting the Keystone exams at the high school level will allow districts and the state to more accurately assess district performance, she said.

The specific nature of the exams means more grade levels will be assessed. As end-of-course exams, they will count as one-third of the course grade in addition to being a graduation requirement, she said.

At West Greene, testing for algebra and biology will take place during the first window this month and English literature will be tested during the second window in January, she said. All students currently enrolled in algebra 1 and biology will take those tests later in the spring, she said.

Szarell said West Greene has been making adjustments to the curriculum in preparation for the new tests but that there is still a lot of work to be done. She said the district has implemented the software program Study Island and has changed the master schedule to provide educational development time for teachers and administrators to work on curriculum and Keystone preparation.

Lucas said each content area for the Keystones has two modules and will be offered over two days. Trinity will begin the tests Jan. 9. Every student, including special education students, will have to take the Keystones after they complete the courses.

Burgettstown Superintendent Deborah Jackson said the district will use three different testing windows. In December and January, students who have previously completed a Keystone course will sit for that exam. Additionally, all juniors will take the Keystone in algebra and English composition in January, unless they are currently taking those courses.

“This will fulfill the requirement that all juniors must take the Keystones in math and English/language arts due to the requirements of (the state Department of Education) for determining Adequate Yearly Progress,” she said. “By taking the exam in December/January, we anticipate receiving the results in time that students who do not score at the proficient level can access additional academic support and retest again in May 2013.”

Students who are taking those courses now will take the Keystone exams in May.

She said the faculty and administration have been revising curriculum not only for the Keystone exams, but also the revised PSSAs for grades three through eight.

Teachers have also attended professional development seminars, on the content of the common core as well as teaching strategies that will be necessitated by this change. Curriculum revisions include a more rigorous and in-depth student of topics in each discipline, Jackson said.

She said some changes include aligning math curriculum in kindergarten through eighth grade to make sure topics are included at the appropriate grade level, making sure that fiction has a place in the English department curriculum, social studies teachers and students are working with primary source documents as a means of gathering information and teachers are focusing on reading and writing across all curriculum areas.



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