After more than four years of debate and revision, the Keystone Exam will more than likely be coming to schools across Pennsylvania.
After receiving approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the regulations will now go to the House and Senate Education committees and Independent Regulatory Review Commission for consideration.
The exam plans however, come with some new regulations — the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards. These new requirements must be implemented across the state in English, arts and mathematics by July 1.
These regulations are similar to the Common Core Standards initiative already underway in 45 states. However, Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said Pennsylvania tailored its standards to better match students' needs across the state.
Eller said these Pennsylvania-specific changes came about because some subject areas were already well-suited to the state.
“There were some part of the standards that were being worked on by this common coordination-wide group, that Pennsylvania said, 'You know we can improve our standards in some areas, some areas our standards are already where they need to be or are actually more rigorous than what the common core standards are,'” he said.
Keeping with previous Keystone Exam proposals, students will still be required to pass the exam or something similar, such as an Advanced Placement or an International Baccalaureate exam to graduate high school.
Beginning with the class of 2017 — this year's eighth grade class — students have to pass three Keystone Exams in algebra I, biology and literature. Over the next four years, a composition test as well as a civics and government test will be added.
Eller said these subjects are tested because they best prepare students for the future.
“The students need to have a deep understanding and a foundation in the math, in the sciences and in the writing and communications aspect of what’s needed of a future workforce,” he said.
These tests are designed to fit in with STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Additionally, subject to available funding, five additional Keystone Exams would be made available to school districts for voluntary use based on the following schedule: geometry in 2016, U.S. history in 2017, algebra II in 2018, chemistry in 2019 and world history in 2020.
While the details of the exam format have yet to be ironed out, Eller said the Keystone Exams will be as “rigorous” as the SATs.
As for concerns over teachers "teaching to the test," Eller said that shouldn’t be an issue in the first place.
“Since the beginning of education, educators have always taught to a test,” he said. “They would teach either a specific unit in a book or cover certain concepts within a lesson, and then at the end of that unit or at the end of that lesson they’d either have a chapter test or unit test or midterm exam. They’re always teaching what was taught anyway.”