Saturday, February 6, 2016

PA: Partial Testing Pause

This week Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill that will delay using the Keystone Exams (our version of the Big Standardized Test for high school students) as a graduation requirement. Though we've been giving the test for a few years, it will now not become a grad requirement until 2019 (postponed from 2017). That's certainly not bad news, but there's no reason to put the party hats on just yet.

First, as (unfortunately) always, it's worth noting that this happens against the backdrop of our leaders' absolute inability to fulfill their most basic function- as I type this, Pennsylvania is on its 221st day without a budget. We are right on track to have the governor preparing next year's budget while this year's budget is still not fully adopted. It is entirely possible that Harrisburg is populated entirely by dopes.

Second, the idea is to have officials go back to the drawing board and come up with better ideas for BS Testing. This is akin to feeling great pain because you're hitting yourself in the head with a hammer and saying, "Hmm. Well, maybe if I turn the hammer sideways it won't hurt so much." It's akin to eating a terrible, vomit-inducing meal of liver and pineapple and rotted fish parts covered with chocolate sauce and saying, "Well, maybe if we put the chocolate sauce on first rather than last." This is about re-aranging deck chairs rather than examining the premise.

Third, while high school seniors will not be required by the state to pass the Keystones to graduate, the state still plans to use the Keystones to evaluate schools and teachers. So our professional fates are still tied to a BS Test that students have no reason to take seriously or care about. Great.

Fourth-- well, many DO have a reason to care about the test, because in anticipation of the state's BS Test grad requirement, many school districts have already made passing the Keystone a local graduation requirement. We do that in PA-- the state sets a grad requirement minimum, and local districts can require over and above that. So for many local students, the postponing of the Keystone grad requirement will make zero difference-- they still have to pass the test or an alternative assessment (known in my district as the Binder of Doom) in order to graduate.

So this is good news in the sense that it would be worse if the state had gone ahead with its original plan to require Keystones as exit tests right now. But it's bad news in the sense that we aren't really trying to fix anything or figure out what we really ought to be doing. And it's bad news because the decisions are still in the hands of the most expensive, most incompetent state government in the country.

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