January 14, 2016

Dear Parents and Staff Members,

I am writing to ask for your immediate help in convincing our legislators to delay the Keystone Exam as a graduation requirement until a better system can be determined.  Below is a copy of the letter I sent to all members of the Pennsylvania Senate and the governor.  It explains the current legislative status of Keystone Exams.  As you may be aware, the state is requiring that all students pass these exams in order to graduate.  Like many educators across the state I strongly oppose this because;

  • A student’s diploma should not be based on results of one individual test.
  • The way the tests are constructed and given is a huge impediment to our student’s education.
  • The amount of time and money we are spending on test prep is doing our students and school system a major disservice.

For detailed information about Keystone Exams and my opposition to it as an educator and parent, click here.

Please take time now to call and email the following senators and ask them to vote on SB 880, which will delay Keystones as a graduation requirement.  It would also be helpful to write a letter to the editor for the Daily Local News (letters@dailylocal.com), Harrisburg Patriot News (jmicek@pennlive.com) and Philadelphia Inquirer (inquirer.letters@phillynews.com).  For a sample letter click here.

Andy Dinniman – Chester County 610-692-2112 andy@pasenate.com
John Rafferty – Chester and Montgomery Counties 610-831-8830 jrafferty@pasen.gov
Jake Corman – Majority floor leader 814-355-0477 jcorman@pasen.gov

The Senate is returning to session on January 19 and they may consider voting on SB 880.  The governor has indicated he will sign the bill.  It would be helpful if you can send letters before Monday.

I apologize for the short notice but I just got word that this could come up for a vote.

Thank you for helping me continue to fight for a system that recognizes that our kids’ education should be more than test scores, and that they deserve better.  Our legislators need to hear from you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jim Scanlon

Superintendent

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January 13, 2016

Dear Members of the Pennsylvania State Senate,

I am writing to ask you to remove Senate Bill 880 from the budget impasse and vote on it separately before the future of many of our state’s high school students is negatively impacted. The bill delays the Keystone Exam graduation requirements for the graduating class of 2017, and requires the PA Department of Education to submit a plan for accountability within six months.

We are at a critical time for the current junior class that is most affected by the graduation requirement to pass a Keystone Exam in Algebra, English Literature, and Biology by June 2017.  If students can’t or don’t pass a Keystone Exam, they must pass a Project Based Assessment (PBA) in order to graduate. The PBA is nothing more than a series of online assessments measuring the three areas tested in a Keystone Exam.  The PBA is also graded by teachers not working for the West Chester Area School District.  Last year we had six students participate in a PBA and it took four months to receive results for those six students.

The West Chester Area School District has 951 students enrolled in its junior class and at least 118 will need to begin the Project Based Assessment this March. They will be removed from their elective classes in order to have enough time to complete these assessments before the end of the school year.  If we receive results in four months, we should know by September if these students will be eligible to graduate from high school.  Here is a table of the number of students in each of our three high schools who now must take the PBA because they have failed one or more Keystone Exam since 9th grade.

High School Biology English Literature Algebra
East HS 41 36 16
Henderson HS 38 33 25
Rustin HS 39 36 35

TOTAL

118 105 76

 

All three of our high schools score among the top 20 in the state, out of some 650 high schools receiving a School Performance Profile, over the past three years.  We have worked diligently to help every student pass the necessary exams in order to graduate from high school, and we have spent more than $1 million in staffing expenses over the past two years to provide resources to instruct students in remediation classes.  Even with that help, we expect that 2%, or about 18 students, in the class of 2017 will not graduate due to this unfunded mandate.  When the parents of those 18 students ask me why this happened, I will forward the names and contact information of our legislators and governor to respond to their questions.

All of these resources have been focused on the class of 2017 and we have not even begun to address the class of 2018 (current 10th grade students).  Many of them also need to be instructed in order to re-take a Keystone Exam or to take the PBA. Where will the money come from to help them?

If a high performing district like West Chester is struggling with this requirement, how will the state handle an estimated 100,000 students not graduating next year because of an unfunded mandate that has very little relevance to certifying that a student is ready to graduate?

Please vote on SB 880 for its own merit and not part of the stalled budget discussion.  It’s the right thing to do for children in the Commonwealth.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jim Scanlon

Superintendent

West Chester Area School District