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June 08, 2015

NPR: Keystone Exams could sink Philly, Pa. high school grad rates

Pennsylvania's current high school graduation rate of 86 percent could drop significantly in coming years, NPR reports.

The reason that number may very well fall is because of the Keystone Exams, a series of tests that measure students' proficiency in a number of subjects. Passing those tests in three subject areas - algebra, biology and literature - is set to become a requirement for graduation by 2017, which could mean trouble for students statewide.

NPR points out that students have struggled. Just 54 percent passed the biology exam last year. In Philadelphia especially, four out of five students would need to finish a "project-based assessment" in order to graduate. Students would have to complete more than 10 hours of work outside the classroom that shows they have the skills to graduate, according to PhillyMag. 

The exams have faced sharp criticism as well as staunch support. From NPR:

Critics of the new requirements say they'll needlessly hamstring students whose intellectual prowess can't be captured by tests. Others say it will push schools to devote even more time to "teaching-to-the-test."
Supporters of the requirement, though, say the state needs to do a better job ensuring that all students are prepared for the modern job market. Giving credence to this point, 70 percent of students at the Community College of Philadelphia need remedial work before moving on to college-level classes.

Teachers, state Democrats and Gov. Tom Wolf have all expressed either skepticism or discontent with using standardized testing as a benchmark, citing some variation of that criticism. West Chester Superintendent Jim Scanlon said in an interview with CBSPhilly that he had students "pulling their hair out" over stress from the exams.  

Conversely, supporters like Pennsylvania Business Council President and CEO David Patti stress one thing: Accountability. From PennLive

"There is little point to statewide standards without a statewide assessment to ensure that our students are proficient in skills and knowledge deemed to be core necessities for career and post-secondary readiness," Patti said. "Without the graduation requirement, our students have no 'skin in the game.'"

Read the full NPR article here