Some superintendents from Clearfield, Curwensville and Moshannon Valley school districts are not as certain as the state Auditor General that replacing Keystone Exams with the SAT or PSAT will save state taxpayers money.
In a new special report released Wednesday, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Pennsylvania taxpayers are still spending tens of millions of dollars every year on the Keystone Exams, which have not been federally required for four years.
“Pennsylvania should aggressively explore using a nationally recognized test that can open new doors for students rather than continuing to spend money on an exam that is no longer required,” DePasquale said. “For less than what Pennsylvania spends on the Keystone Exams, it could instead pick up the tab for every high school student to take the PSAT or SAT.”
Federal law requires that all states administer a secondary-level standardized test; however, since 2015, when the No Child Left Behind Act was replaced, the state-specific Keystone Exams were no longer required.
But rather than phase out the state-specific tests — which at least 12 other states have done — the Pennsylvania Department of Education is still paying the tests’ creator, Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corp., tens of millions of dollars each year to administer and score the Keystone Exams.
Between 2015 and 2021, Pennsylvania will have spent nearly $100 million on the Keystone Exams.
Pennsylvania students could have instead been taking a nationally recognized test such as the SAT or ACT – which is shown to improve the rate at which students attend post-secondary education – at a lower cost than what has been paid for the Keystone Exams.
Many school district officials do not realize that the Keystone Exams, administered to all public high-school students in Pennsylvania, are not and will never be a graduation requirement, DePasquale said. Eliminating the Keystone Exams would allow teachers to spend more time instructing students on key concepts.
Moshannon Valley School District Superintendent Dr. John Zesiger said he isn’t certain that the state will save as much money as the auditor general expects.
“While I am not necessarily opposed to changing the Keystone assessment, I certainly do not think that any one assessment can accurately reflect a student’s skill mastery,” Zesiger said in a statement. “That said, my main concern with moving from the Keystone Exam, to any other measure, is that districts have made enormous investments in curricular material, teacher professional development, and even staffing practices, based on the current state-mandated assessments. If a new mandated assessment, like the SAT, were to be utilized as a measure of student, and ultimately school, performance, districts would need time and financial resources to replace materials, secure professional development, and other facets so that instruction aligns to the tested skills.
“Also concerning would be, do the SAT or PSAT, measure what Pennsylvania has established as standards, or would a completely new framework for education be required?” Zesiger continued. “Because if so, then I am not sure that the financial savings outlined in the Auditor General’s report would truly be recognized.”
Curwensville Area School District Superintendent Ron Matchock is also unsure of the Auditor General’s proposal.
“The keystone exams serve as “end of course” assessments for only three areas: Algebra, Biology and Literature. With high schools being measured for success by performance in just these three courses, it can take away from the larger educational picture of ‘what is best for the students career choice’ to make sure they are prepared for these three tests,” Matchock said in a statement.
He added that he feels most public schools are going to welcome less reliance on standardized testing in any way, because it allows schools to focus more on what is best for the students career choices and success after high school.
“We also have to keep in mind that just like the keystone exams only hits three areas, the SAT does not hit every area either and if it becomes the new measuring stick for high school performance that could have the same adverse effect of schools steering curriculum to the best chance of success for the SAT, similar to what we have now with the Keystone,” Matchock continued. “Schools have to strive to do what is best for the student, and we all have to understand any assessment put in place will have its flaws.
“From a financial standpoint, if funding can be saved from this switch and that money can be diverted into other areas of higher need for K-12 public education, then that is a win for all of us,” Matchock said.
Clearfield Area School District Superintendent Terry Struble said administration will continue to focus on quality education.
“As a top priority, The Clearfield Area School District is going to continue to provide opportunities for students both inside and outside the classroom setting. We value the urgency for students to become college and career-ready,” Struble said in a statement. “Our dedication to academic programming, extracurricular arts and sports programming, and partnership with the Clearfield County Career and Technology Center will continue to be areas of focus for providing students with opportunities regardless of what direction state testing might move to.”
Struble did say that the district was open to the state seeking other ways to bring more funds to educaiton.
“We do not have an official stance on what specific tests Pennsylvania should require, but we do value the Attorney General’s recommendation to find alternative funding streams that would help alleviate the burden placed upon Pennsylvania tax payers to implement high stakes testing of students,” Struble said.
Superintendents from Glendale, Philipsburg-Osceola and West Branch school districts did not immediately return requests from The Progress for comment.