New Diploma Requirements in PA?

Cross-posted on Cliotech. 

The Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh reported yesterday (January 3, 2008) that the state of Pennsylvania may join 22 other states that have mandatory competency assessments required to graduate from high school.

If the plan goes through, next year’s sixth graders would be the first graduating class required to take the state competency exams.

The graduation exams would join the PSSA assessments as mandatory standardized high school exams.

Here are the proposed testing requirements:

Rather than a single graduation test, the state is mulling a series of exams that could be used in place of traditional course finals. The program would consist of 10 exams — three in math, two in language arts, three in social studies and two in science. A district could use state-created tests or its own, with state approval.

The math exams would include material covered in algebra 1, algebra 2 and geometry; the language arts exams would cover English 11 and English 12; the social studies exams would cover American history, world history and civics; and the science exams would cover biology and chemistry.

A student would have to pass at least five exams: one English, two math and one each in social studies and science.

There are some exceptions to those guidelines. Students can opt out of the competency exams if they achieve a certain performance level on national AP and IB exams or proficiency on all sections of the 11th grade PSSA Math and Reading exams.

Exams would be administered at the end of the courses that cover the exam material. The students would be able to take the exams multiple times. The article suggests that the exam scores would be used to pinpoint student weakness for targeted remediation and tutoring.

The state board is holding a a public hearing on Wednesday and may vote on the testing proposal as early as January 16 and 17.

As you might imagine, there is already much discussion about the efficacy of such competency measures. The Pennsylvania Schools Boards Association, the Pennsylvania Sate Education Association, and other educators from across the state are voicing concerns.

In my opinion, a competency measure in and of itself is not necessarily a terrible thing. But, I have little faith that the tests the state creates will be truly authentic measures of student learning. As educators well know, it is very challenging to create a rigorous and relevant assessment that genuinely allows students to demonstrate their learning. Not every student, regardless of their depth of learning, will be able to perform well on a standardized objective assessment. We see that with the SATs – that amazingly talented, creative, and intelligent student who is at the top of her graduating class that simply tanks on the SATs. It is not all that uncommon. Those individuals who process information in random abstract ways tend to struggle on the largely concrete sequential format of most standardized assessments.

I am really concerned about this state proposal.

Please check out the article to learn more.

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