Wolf to sign bill delaying Keystone graduation requirement

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania high schoolers in the class of 2017 are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

On Wednesday, the state Senate unanimously signed off on a House-approved measure that pushes back by two years a requirement for students to pass state standardized Keystone exams in Algebra, Literature and Biology in order to graduate.

Gov. Wolf says he will sign the bill.

Pressure on lawmakers had mounted over the last few years to repeal or punt on the requirement as recent test results indicated a possibly large decline in the state graduation rate.

If students didn’t pass the tests after two tries, they were to complete a project assessment, but districts were to receive no additional funding to help remediate the children.

Districts across the state feared a nightmare scenario. Based on recent pass rates, a quarter million students would need help with projects – especially based on performance on the Biology exam.

"I still support the concept. I just think in rolling out the implementation of this graduation requirement we ran into a lot of problems," said Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), the majority chair of the Senate Education Committee. “The purpose of this bill is to reset that decision and see whether there’s a better way to place requirements around graduation."

Lawmakers have now pushed back the requirement to begin with the class of 2019. In the meantime, they have asked the state Department of Education to offer a redesign plan within six months.

"One of the potential ideas here is, instead of just using the Keystone exam test as the requirement, maybe there’s a broader menu of requirements, and a student could basically be proficient in any of those tests," said Smucker, who specifically mentioned the possibility of an alternate assessment for career technical education students.

“While the governor believes we should have high standards, there have been issues with implementation and it is prudent to allow more time,” said Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan, in a statement.

Although Keystone exams have not yet affected students, they have affected teachers and schools – both of which are judged, in part, on standardized test scores.

The bill drew support from every single senator and representative – a major rarity in Harrisburg lately.

"Some things, when they make sense, we can all agree," said Smucker.

Dale Mezzacappa of the Notebook contributed to this report.