Schools in 40 Pa. counties would struggle with Keystone graduation requirement

 This map shows counties that have at least one school district or charter where the number of retests scoring below proficient represents more than 75 percent of the high school enrollment in those districts and charters. (Map via Research for Action).

This map shows counties that have at least one school district or charter where the number of retests scoring below proficient represents more than 75 percent of the high school enrollment in those districts and charters. (Map via Research for Action).

A new brief details how complicated it could get to help students graduate who can’t pass those exams.

Pennsylvania students in the class of 2017 are the first who will be required to pass standardized Keystone exams in algebra, literature and biology in order to graduate high school. A new brief details how complicated it could get to help students graduate who can’t pass those exams.

State law passed under Gov. Ed Rendell and implemented under Gov. Tom Corbett says that if students can’t pass the tests after two tries, schools must help them to complete a project-based assessment.

As written, though, the law provides zero additional resources for schools to do this work.

“I don’t think at that point in time it was clear what kinds of resources might be required in order for school districts and charters to meet the Keystone graduation requirements,” said Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action.

The Philadelphia-based nonprofit published an analysis Wednesday showing that, based on last year’s pass rates, a quarter million Pennsylvania students would need help with project based assessments.

In more than 100 districts and charters, the number of retests scoring below proficient represents more than 75 percent of the high school enrollment in those districts and charters. (The state data shows the number of tests taken, not the number of students taking them).

The Philadelphia School District falls into this category, as do 16 of the city’s charter schools.

The problem, though, is far more widespread.

Based on current pass rates, schools in forty Pennsylvania counties would be tasked with providing a tremendous amount of remedial support to students. The RFA report shows that need would be especially great in Mercer, Beaver, Washington, Allegheny, Clearfield, Indiana and Schuylkill counties.

Shaw says, without additional resources, the current law is setting up a logistical nightmare that could leave many students in the lurch.

“What we hope is that this brief provides policymakers with an opportunity to more closely examine what kinds of burdens these requirements might place on school districts and charters,” said Shaw.

The report shows that economically-disadvantaged minorities would be most greatly affected.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pitched bills that would postpone or outright end the graduation requirement. On Tuesday, a Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) bill that would delay the graduation requirement two years advanced out of the senate education committee

On Monday, NewsWorks published a look at how the graduation requirement could affect students who are still learning English.

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