Friday, August 8, 2014

Keystone Exams are Sabotaging Students Education

How the Common Core Keystone Exams are 
Sabotaging Students Education

  • Teachers are using classroom time for test prep instead of focusing time on true educational instruction which leaves students with less time to improve their grades, class rank and GPA
  • College admissions, in state and out of state, DO NOT consider the Keystone Exams for admissions in any capacity
  • College admissions DO consider academic record (GPA, honors/AP courses taken, class rank) and SAT/ACT scores
  • The Keystone Exams DO NOT count towards student classroom grades, class rank or GPA

My daughter is going into 10th grade, is an honor’s student with a 3.8 GPA and plans to go to college.  She is in the graduating class of 2017, which means she is subjected to the new Common Core aligned Keystone Exam graduation requirement. 

During the school year she spent 20% of classroom time in Algebra 1 on test prep for the Keystone Exams, plus 2 days for the test (90 minutes each day).  That is a total of 6 weeks of class time for a single test!  Two weeks prior to the test were spent wholly on test prep.  On the first day of the exam, due to the test schedule, she missed her Honors World History final review.  This is a class that she needs to maintain high grades throughout the year to be considered for AP History for the upcoming year.

I assumed the Keystone Exam was important.  Since my daughter is planning to go to college I wanted to make sure she knew how important this test was.  I called a few college admission offices an asked them to clarify how much ‘weight’ is given to the Keystone Exam.  The reply was unanimous:  NONE.

From Pennsylvania State University Undergraduate Admissions:

We do not consider the Keystone exam for admission to Penn State.  Our decision is based 2/3 based on high school academic record (GPA, honors/AP courses taken, class rank) and 1/3 is SAT/ACT score.

The Keystone Exams are not considered, at all, in any capacity, for college admissions!

Regardless, Pennsylvania students are now required to pass three Keystone exams that are not considered by colleges for admission.   My daughter, even with a 3.8 GPA and Honor’s student taking AP classes, could have her entire school career wiped out by not scoring proficient on one single test resulting in her not getting a diploma.

Our students currently spend approximately 6 weeks per class on test prep for each exam plus 1-2 days for testing.  That is 32 classroom days or 20% of their school year in a class on a single exam that is not considered by college admissions!!  This is valuable time teachers and students could be using to improve GPA scores for college!  

If that isn't nonsensical enough, as I was waiting to get my daughters score for the Keystone Exams I learned that the school district gets the scores by mid-July.  Students will get the scores by the first week of September.  Why the delay? 

The Keystones are not graded in the typical way - 85/100 does not = 85% or a grade of B. Cut scores are used AFTER the tests are scored.   The student scores statewide are put in order.  A group of selected individuals will discuss and determine where the rage will fall.  That is why they use proficient, advanced or basic in scoring, these words cover the range that is not determined until after the tests are scored. So they have the raw scores and just need to determine where to cut them and apply basic/proficient/advanced.

This is from John Weiss who is the Director, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Assessment and Accountability.  Here he clarifies the cut-score process of the Keystone Exams:

After the initial administration of an assessment, the tests are scored and given a scaled score.  The tests are then arranged in order of scores.  Pennsylvania educators then participate in a Standard Setting activity where they determine the cut off points between each performance level (Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic).  The range of scaled scores is then determined to identify each performance level.

So the score students receive on the Keystone Exams is subjective, can be politically driven and is left to the whims of a select group of a few people. It might be that alot of kids pass the Algebra Keystone this year so that folks back off proposed legislation to untie it to graduation requirement.  Or, it might be that alot of kids fail and the common core reformers will come in and save our students with remedial classes like they did in New York State last year.

How to Opt Out of the PSSA's

Section 4.4 of Title 22, Chapter 4 provides for the rights of parents to excuse their child from the PSSA testing if they find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious beliefs.  It is important to note that no religious affiliation or discussion is required to be shared with the school district, simply state that you are opting out based on "religious beliefs".

STEP 1:  
Parent request in writing to the building principal to review exam within two weeks of exam.  

 Dear Superintendent,
Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(4) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child, [NAME], excused from PSSA testing because of religious beliefs.
Two weeks prior to the testing window, exams must be made available for review.  School districts must provide a convenient time for the review.  Parents will need sign the 'Parent Confidentiality Agreement' that simply states they will not share what is on the test with anyone

STEP 2:  
Parent reviews test at school.

STEP 3:  
Parent provides written request to be excused from test to the Superintendent. Can be worded same as first letter, stating that that you reviewed the exam.

Dear Superintendent,
On [Date] I had the opportunity to review the PSSA test and pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(4) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child, [Name] excused from Keystone testing because of religious beliefs.  
STEP 4:  
Superintendent reviews the request - this request cannot be denied.

School personnel must provide an alternative learning environment for the student during the assessment and complete the “Non-Assessed Students” grid by selecting “Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment.”


Although there is no other apparent reason for student non-participation in the exam, this category is provided for the rare exception. The most notable rare exception is student refusal to participate at the time of testing. Refusal represents a defiant act on the student’s part despite school personnel’s every effort to obtain compliance. If you have exhausted all options and believe you have a case that fits into the “Other” category, complete the “Non-Assessed Students” section by marking “Other.”

This is the letter I wrote:

We are writing today to formally inform the district of our decision to refuse to allow our daughter to participate in state standardized assessments for the 2013-2014 school year.  Pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(4) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child, [Name], excused from PSSA/Keystone testing because of religious. 
In no way is our decision to opt out of these high stakes tests a reflection of our perception of [School District] or the teachers.  We are satisfied with the quality of education our daughter has received.  Our disappointment in this matter is with the current school reforms in the form of the Common Core Standards and the increase in high stakes standardized testing.  These state and national policies put forth by politicians and corporations have corrupted the process of education in our schools.
High stakes standardized tests do nothing to improve creative thinking, meaningful learning, and dynamic teaching. This national and statewide emphasis on standardized testing is a waste classroom time and taxpayer's money that could otherwise be spent on valuable educational opportunities. The latest trend is to link these standardized test scores to the rating system for their teachers.  Using the state standardized test scores as a percentage of an educator's effectiveness rating is unfair to everyone involved. There are too many factors that influence a student's ability to answer the test questions correctly, and it is in no way an effective tool for determining how effective a teacher is.  

It is our hope that sometime in the near future our students can be rescued from these ill conceived test-driven educational policies, and our schools and teachers will be free to teach children as they always have: with a heartfelt desire to see young children grow and develop intellectually to the best of their abilities.

§ 4.4. General policies.

(4)  The right to review a State assessment in the school entity during convenient hours for parents and guardians, at least 2 weeks prior to their administration, to determine whether a State assessment conflicts with their religious belief. To protect the validity and integrity of the State assessments, each school entity shall have in place procedures to be followed when parents or guardians request to view any State assessment. Procedures must be consistent with guidance provided by the Department in its assessment administration instructions. If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request that states the objection to the applicable school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer or AVTS director.

Chapter 4. Academic Standards and Assessments

Found at this link: