Sharpen Your Pencils

Get out your bubble sheet and sharpen your pencil. It’s your turn to take the test! Join us this Saturday to see what the PSSA and Keystone exams look like, take sample questions, talk to teachers, and discuss the impact of high-stakes-testing on students and our schools. It’s like an old-fashioned teach-in, only it’s a “Test-In.” Get it?

We’ll be learning from some great teachers and educators, including Dr. Greg Taranto. He was Pennsylvania’s 2012 Middle School Principal of the Year and is currently serving on Governor Wolf’s education transition team. Other speakers include Steel Valley teacher (and Yinzercation steering committee member), Steve Singer, and Pittsburgh Allderdice teacher, Jon Parker. Please RSVP on our Facebook event page, and then invite your networks.

The Test-In runs from 11:30AM – 1:30PM in the University Center at Carnegie Mellon. Free parking in the garage at Forbes & Beeler. Snacks provided! Co-sponsored by the Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh coalition and Carnegie Mellon’s Center for the Arts in Society.


Come to the Test-In to learn why the Keystone exams pose a particular concern for civil rights, as they threaten to fail enormous numbers of poor students and students of color, preventing them from graduating. In Philadelphia last year, pass rates at some of the poorest schools were in the “single digits and low double-digits for all three subjects – Algebra I, Literature, and Biology. … Pass rates were low, even in some highly selective schools.” [The Notebook, 11-14-14]

The Pennsylvania NAACP has demanded the removal of the Keystones as graduation requirements, calling the use of these high-stakes-tests a “present day form of Eugenics.” In a letter to the PA Department of Education, they wrote, “Attaching the Keystone Examinations to graduation is clearly based on the idea that it is possible to distinguish between superior and inferior elements of society through selective scores on a paper and pencil test. … Pushing masses of students out of high school without a diploma will create a subculture of poverty comprised of potentially 60 percent of our young citizens.” [Pittsburgh Courier, 10-24-13] The letter uses strong language to object to the impact of high-stakes-testing on our most vulnerable children, including:

“human rights violation…unspeakable horror…holocaust on our youth and society…life-long trauma… a system of entrapment for the youth of Pennsylvania…depraved indifference…deficient in a moral sense of concern…lacks regard for the lives of the children who will be harmed, and puts their lives and futures at risk…LYNCHING OUR OWN YOUNG.” [NAACP letter to PDE, 9-3-13]

Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Tobash, a Republican from Dauphin County, is listening. He recently introduced a bill to repeal the Keystone graduation requirement and to stop the development of seven more subject-specific exams, required under current state law. Rep. Tobash explained, “The children of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they need to learn, they need to be assessed, but when we’ve gone so far that we end up handcuffing our educational system with really an overwhelming amount of standardized assessment, we need to stop and put the brakes on here, take a look at it.” [Newsworks, 1-28-15]

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Democrat from Chester County, agrees. He has introduced similar legislation in the past, which has not gotten out of committee, but is doing it again this year. Citing severe budget issues for many impoverished school districts, Sen. Dinniman said, “the use of the Keystone Exams as graduate requirements must be stopped before they exacerbate an already dire situation.” He noted, “It’s clear to me that there are two systems of public education in Pennsylvania: separate and unequal … Until we resolve that discrepancy, how can we, in good conscience, stamp ‘failure’ on the backs of kids who lack the teachers, resources and classes to pass such standardized tests? To continue down this path without addressing such basic issues is beyond the pale. It’s downright shameful.” [Senator Dinniman, 1-16-15]

When students fail the Keystone exams twice in a row, they are required to do a “Project Based Assessment” (PBA). But these projects are equally troubling. The Superintendent of the Bethlehem Area school district explained last week that the PBAs are a “disaster waiting to happen.” He said, “We can’t figure it out yet how we’re going to make this work to the benefit of our students. … We’re really concerned. This is a major, major issue for high schools across the commonwealth.” [LehighValleyLive, 3-10-15] School officials have no way to administer the assessments without having students lose electives or other class time. And no one seems to know how teachers will be able to supervise the completion of all those projects. Where is that time coming from and how many other students will have their learning disrupted as a result?

Clearly we need to change state legislation and support the crucial efforts of Rep. Tobash and Sen. Dinniman. In addition, parents are using other strategies to combat high-stakes-testing, including refusing to allow their children to take the exams. At Feltonville middle school in Philadelphia this year, over 100 students will not be taking the PSSAs when they start in April. Many of those students are English Language Learners (ELL) who are not performing at grade level, yet Pennsylvania requires all ELL students – as well as special education students – to be evaluated at grade level on the high-stakes-tests. And when students do not score well on these tests, their school can be threatened with closure or turned over to a charter school operator. [The Notebook, 3-11-15]

We will talk more about these high-stakes impacts on kids and schools at the Test-In on Saturday. We will also generate strategies together to combat high-stakes-testing. Please come be a part of this critical community conversation. Get those pencils sharpened!

2 thoughts on “Sharpen Your Pencils

  1. Pingback: Mom: The religious reasons my kids won’t be taking Common Core tests - The Washington Post

  2. Pingback: Citizens' Call » The Furor Over High Stakes Testing

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