Tuesday, October 16, 2018

PA: Testing Good News And Bad News

As was reported a few months ago, the Pennsylvania legislature has been working on finally lowering the stakes on our high school Big Standardized Tests, the Keystone exams (or rather permanently failing to raise them, as Harrisburg could never quite bring itself to say "Pass these tests or no diploma for you.")

Gov. Wolf gets a partial win
Now the bill has passed both houses, and the governor has indicated that he will sign it.

This is a good news--bad news situation. Here's why.

Good News

Students will now have a very broad range of methods for proving they are diploma-worthy. Graduation will not depend on their successful score on a lousy standardized test on which the cut score wanders from year to year, essentially norm referenced so that someone must fail, always. This new bill is excellent news for students, who can now graduate based on grades or big-time tests like the ACT or even a college acceptance letter.

For high school students, the Keystone exams are now no-stakes, meaningless nothing-tests. And that's a very good thing.

Bad News

The no-stakes meaningless nothing-tests will still be used to evaluate teachers and schools. Teacher professional rankings and school standings will rest on students taking a test that is a complete waste of their time, a game in which they have no skin at all. Will students try their very hardest to make their teacher and their alma mater look good, or will they breeze through quickly so they can take a nap? And will local school districts undo the legislature's work by making the test a local graduation requirement as a way of extorting effort out of their students (as many districts have done in previous years while waiting for Full Keystone to kick in)?

There may even be a bitter irony here for district's that restructured as a way to game the test. Some schools rolled their middle schools into their high schools. See, eighth graders generally test poorly (because have you ever met an eighth grader), so putting them under the same roof as high school students helped pull the average up. I do wonder if that trick will keep working.

So Here's Hoping

That Harrisburg completes the job and uncouples teacher and school evaluation from a test that students have officially no reason to care about. The new bill is a great step forward, but there are more steps left to take.

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