Friday, May 15, 2015

Moratorium on Keystone Graduation Requirement

SB 838 is currently in the Senate Education Committee. Information on Senate Bill 838 can be found HERE.  This bill will establish a moratorium on the use of the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement.

**UPDATE** (from Senator Dinniman's office):  
Six members of Senate Education Committee have signed (Senators Dinniman, Folmer, Leach, Teplitz, Tomlinson and Williams). Senators Smucker, Scarnati, Pileggi, Eichelberger and Browne have not signed on to the bill. Targeted letter writing campaign to the Education Committee, thanking the supportive members and encouraging the support of those yet to sign on would be great.  Should the bill get out of Committee, the support of Senators Scarnati and Corman are critical in bringing it to the Senate floor for a vote, so cc'ing Senator Corman could be helpful.  


Please write to Senators Smucker, Scarnati, Pileggi, Eichelberger and Browne and urge them to support SB 838.  

Their email addresses are (copy and paste):,,,,

Please go HERE and send Senator Corman an email through the form on his website.  He only gets emails through this form and its important he hears from people on this issue.

Sample letter (it would be valuable to include your school district and/or county and to share with them how the Keystone graduation requirement is impacting your child in just 1-2 sentences):


Dear Senator ____________,  
I am a parent in _____________ school district, in ___________ county.  I urge you to support SB 838 which places a moratorium on the use of the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement until the Basic Education Funding Commission and the General Assembly determine and enact a fair educational funding formula.
The Project-based assessment is an unfunded mandate that deters from instructional time and student advancement.  SB 838 is urgent – this unfunded and burdensome graduation mandate is creating havoc in every Pennsylvania school district. 
Your Name

This is the letter I wrote, feel free to use this information in your letter:

I am a parent in _________________ school district in _______________ county.  I urge you to support SB 838 which places a moratorium on the use of the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement.  SB 838 is urgent – this unfunded and burdensome graduation mandate is creating havoc in every Pennsylvania school district. 
I have reviewed all 3 Keystone exams.  They are confusing, ambiguous and tricky with multiple plausible answers and teachers need to change instruction to accommodate the different methods covered in the tests due to scoring.  The test design is not assessing knowledge or achievement in an educationally valuable way.  It also concerns me that according to DRC and the PDE, the only pre-requisite for people who score the open-ended sections of Keystone exams is that they have proof of a college degree.  They are not required to have an educational background or experience in the subject they are grading.
The Keystone Graduation requirement is costing my school district over $250,000 this year for remediation and that cost is expected to significantly increase next year due to the class of 2017 taking the Biology and Literature Keystone exams this May.  I am concerned that there is no exemption to the graduation requirement for students who are admitted to college early or for students who have earned an NCAA scholarship. 

These are the current co-signers:

Republican co-signers
Senator Hutchinson
Senator Alloway
Senator Vulakovich
Senator Brooks
Senator Tomlinson
Senator McGarrigle
Senator Greenleaf
Senator Rafferty
Senator Folmer
Senator Ward

Democrat co-signers
Senator Teplitz
Senator Wozniak
Senator Tartaglione
Senator Fontana
Senator Yudichak
Senator Schwank
Senator Blake
Senator Boscola
Senator Farnese
Senator Haywood
Senator Leach
Senator Wiley
Senator Kitchen
Senator Costa
Senator Smith
Senator Hughes

To send an email to all members of the PA Senate Education Committee, copy and paste these:,,,,,,,,,,

Contact information for each PA Senate Committee member can be found HERE

Morning Call article: Keystone Exams one big headache for Lehigh Valley school districts
Quick Facts
  • 82% of Allen High School students scored below proficient in Biology and will have to retake and pass the exam or receive remedial instruction and complete a Project-Based Assessment
  • “The overall impact of the tests and the magnitude it has in districts, it's unbelievable.” - Joseph Kovalchik, Northampton Area School District
  •  “A disaster waiting to happen.” - Joseph Roy, Superintendent of Bethlehem Area School District
  • "It's so overwhelming” - Prescious Correa, Sophomore at Dieruff High School 

Thanks to Dot O. for writing the letter and her help in getting this information.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

PA Senate Education Committee

This is the contact information (email and twitter) for the PA Senate Education Committee

Chair, Lloyd K. Smucker:,      @SenatorSmucker
Minority Chair, Andrew E. Dinniman:


Mike Folmer:                         @SenatorFolmer

Joseph B. Scarnati lll:            @senatorscarnati
Patrick M. Browne:,               @SenatorBrowne
John H. Eichelberger Jr:
Dominic Pileggi:                    @SenatorPileggi
Robert M. Tomlinson:      @SenTomlinson


Daylin Leach:           @daylinleach

Rob Teplitz:           @SenatorTeplitz
Anthony H. Williams:    @SenTonyWilliams

Copy and paste the below for to send an email to all members of the PA Senate Education Committee:,,,,,,,,,,

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Legislation to Eliminate Keystone Grad Requirement

Here is a sample letter that can be used to write to legislators requesting to remove the keystone graduation requirement.  Feel free to copy, edit or use in any way.

Dear Representative ____________, 

I urge you to support PA HB 172 eliminating the keystone graduation requirement. Please support eliminating keystone exam requirement entirely rather than leaving it up to school districts to decide how to use them. This requirement is a burden to students, teachers and schools and a costly unfunded mandate for taxpayers.

Evidence PA Core Standards are Failing Students:


Copy and paste these email address to email the PA House Education Committee:,,,,

Contact information for the PA House Education Committee is HERE

PA HB 172

Information on PA HB 172 Repealing the Keystone Exam Graduation Requirement Mandate can be found HERE. The memo explains the bill and the text is the actual bill.

PA HB 168

Information on PA HB 168 to leave the keystone graduation requirement up to school districts to decide can be found HERE. The memo explains the bill and the text is the actual bill. Please note that this bill will leave it up to the school districts to determine how to use the keystone exams. This is concerning because then school districts could choose to use them. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Who Scores the Keystone Exams - Not Teachers

The testing company that Pennsylvania uses for the Keystone exams and PSSA's is Data Recognition Corporation or DRC.  They create, distribute and score the Keystone exams and the PSSA's.  DRC hires employees they call 'scorers' to score the open ended portion of the exams. Open ended questions are non-multiple choice questions that require a person to read and score.

The only prerequisite for a potential 'scorer' is that they have proof of a 4 year degree.  Some implications are that these are people who are likely otherwise unemployed and are not required to have an education background or teaching experience.  

A company called “Glassdoor” has a web site that describes interviews for jobs from all types of companies, based on what interviewees reported to them. I have included comments posted on the Glassdoor web site of individuals who were interviewed for the position of scorer for the DRC.   You can read them online HERE and I urge you to do so. 

It seems to me that the standard for obtaining scorers is extremely low.  

According to John Weiss, Director, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Assessment and Accountability:
Ten percent of the responses are independently read by two readers for the purpose of monitoring and maintaining inter-rater reliability.  Additionally, to ensure that the 90% of the responses that are read by one reader are scored reliably, pre-scored responses are randomly included to ensure that scorers have not drifted from the rubric.    
In such a high stakes test that is used as a graduation requirement, it would seem to be essential to have two graders grading every subjective question, and if the scores deviate, to bring in a third, particularly because, as was stated before, there are legitimate concerns as to the quality and credentials of the graders.  While this would be expensive, it would seem to be the fairest way to assure accuracy in grading.

Below are comments from DRC scorers from the Glassdoor WEBSITE:

Show up, present a college diploma, take a simple test on reading/writing/math skills and have a brief interview.

They want to know if you're capable of following orders like a good factory worker. That's all. Just say that you have no opinions on education and you'll just do whatever they say.

Take it or leave it. There is no negotiation for temporary work that, frankly, an intelligent 15 year old could do, but for which standards require a college degree.

Honestly, there was nothing you couldn't answer easily off the cuff, this is not applying to Harvard.   

It's kind of like working in a factory but instead of making widgets you are grading tests. 

They had a short presentation on the job. There were two short test (very short and easy). You had to take orginal degrees or transcripts of Bachelors degree or higher. Then there was a short one on one interview. You were then offered the job or not and told what assignment you were on.

The most frustrating part of this job is the tendency for the team leader to reinterpret the scores you gave to students in a completely different way that doesn't fit with the rubric and call it a "holistic" approach to scoring the test. This seemed to occur when the score matrix needed to skew in a slightly different direction.

You will leave at the end of each day for the first 2 - 3 weeks completely drained and not able to do much of anything that evening. The quiet scoring rooms coupled with the monotony of reading similar answers to the same question for hours will leave you exhausted. It can be quite boring.

Occasional death marches. Depressingly sterile office. A lot of turnover. Mediocre technology. Many weak hires. Uneven management.

This is a repetitive job that can be less than stimulating but some of the kids responses to essay questions can make you laugh.

People are appointed to group leaders and scoring directors based on longevity rather than talent or education.

Very sedentary working environment that involves staring at a screen reading bad handwriting all day is hard on the body.

Brought in batches to be tested for middle school intelligence in a computer lab. Taken in for individual interviews just to basically confirm we had a pulse, didn't forge our diplomas, and weren't a threat to others or ourselves. Hired on the spot.
Interview Question – x+1=2   

Come in to the office, listen to a presentation, and take two written assessments. One is a pre-algebra level math test, and the other is a writing sample, my prompt was "describe your best achievement in the last two years". After turning in your assessments, you talk one on one with the HR rep for a short (10 minute) interview where she basically wants to see if you will be comfortable with the close quarters of the working environment, the repetition and monotony of grading, and if you can be consistently impartial. If you're smart you just say yes.

Honestly, there was nothing you couldn't answer easily off the cuff, this is not applying to Harvard.   

There is no negotiation.  It's a temporary FT job.  Salary is 13.00 or 14.25 if you complete 40 hours of scoring

These are the people who score the Keystone exams that determines if our children will graduate.  The results of the PSSA and Keystone exams are used to evaluate our teachers and schools as successful or failing.