Pa. fiscal watchdog calls for end of Keystone exams

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report calling for the state to get rid of its high school standardized test and replace it with the SAT or ACT.

Close-up of a standardized test.

Close-up of a standardized test. (Bigstock)

What’s better: saving $1.2 million in taxpayer money or maintaining a test personalized to Pennsylvania?

That’s the question Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale wants the state to ask itself.

DePasquale released a report this week urging the Pennsylvania Department of Education to get rid of the state’s high school standardized test, the Keystone Exam.

DePasquale says the tests, which are developed and scored by the Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corporation, are a waste of money. All told, he says the state spent $17.6 million to administer the tests in the 2017-2018 school year.

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DePasquale instead suggests that the state adopt the SAT or the ACT to comply with federal testing requirements. He says that would net the state $1.2 million and lessen the time students need to take standardized tests.

“The SAT or ACT, for many schools, is a requirement to go to college. So if you’re taking the Keystone exam, which has no impact on college applications at all, and you can’t afford to take the SAT or the ACT, or you don’t think you would do well on it … you end up not taking the test,” DePasquale said.

But Matthew Stem, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education, says the Keystones play a role that other tests can’t.

“The Keystone Exams are aligned, and designed to be aligned, to the standards that teachers teach. So any type of a national assessment would have to be fully matched to what teachers teach, otherwise there’s a disconnect between what students are learning in classrooms and what they’re being tested on at the end of the year,” Stem said.

Stem said the department of education was open to rethinking and remodeling the standardized testing structure, but the test still needs to fill federal and state requirements. That means the test must include algebra I, literature, and science, but must also be accessible to students with special needs and accommodations.

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