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State Senate Democrats Denounce Proposed Standardized Tests

Calling it "phony" and a boon to "corporate education," a handful of Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate blasted Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to implement new standardized tests that would determine students' high school graduation status based on knowledge of Common Core academic benchmarks.

Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, led the charge against the proposals at a news conference Monday. He argued two main points: first, that the higher standards require increased state funding; and second, that the governor added the tests without consulting the Legislature.

Dinniman said the new standardized test would encumber school districts with hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs with no additional funding from the state. He noted that education funding levels under Corbett are lower than they were in the final years of his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell.

"How do we reach these standards with all these cuts created by this administration? That's why we say the administration is phony," Dinniman said. "They make us feel good — we've raised the standards — but they have not provided the fiscal resources to make sure that every child will be taught to the top of the curriculum."

Dinniman added that while the legislature agreed to adopt the Common Core standards for public school curricula, the General Assembly did not approve a year-end standardized test on Common Core requirements before the administration requested permission to start testing from the federal government.

Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) said he thinks the proposed reforms are not driven by "noble interest" in improving education, but rather by "self-interest and profit."

"This is an unfunded mandate, anywhere between 300 million or 500 million (dollars) or more," Black said. "This is about corporate education getting millions of dollars to produce tests and to produce evaluations of those tests with no meaningful expectation of improvement in education."

School districts have already raised taxes in response to falling state funding levels, noted Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), and she said these tests would be an added burden.

"(It is) a mandate that has skirted legislative oversight," she said.

Pennsylvania currently employs yearly standardized tests called the Keystone Exams, determining students' knowledge of English, mathematics and science. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the D.C. schools, set requirements for math and English. Dinniman said that the Legislature agreed to incorporate the standards themselves into classes but did not agree to the tests.