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Conquering the Keystone Exams

Jul 16, 2013

Keystone MonsterIt's a bird, it's a plane, it's a ... a... monster? That's right folks, I have recently dubbed the Keystone Exam a monster. This monster of a test has reeked havoc; chaos; well, at least confusion all over Pennsylvania districts.

As of the 2012-2013 school year- the Pennsylvania Keystone Exam has been integrated [forced] into every public and charter school throughout the state. Simply put, the Keystones replace its older sister exam- the 11th grade PSSA. However, the difficulty is bumped up a notch while being specific to subjects rather than grade. Based on Common Core State Standards, the Keystone Exam kicks up the rigor and, no doubt, the stress levels of all involved. So what is all the fuss about? We've had standardized assessments in the past, although not fun, they were tolerable. Well, rather than being just a test students are required to take while others sit in homeroom for hours, it's a test required to graduate. How will administrators & educators prepare for remediation, tracking data, and higher complexity questions?

The Keystone Exams are state-mandated end-of-course tests intended to measure proficiency for students in identified subjects. Not only must they take all three exams [to which have two modules each,] Algebra 1, Literature and Biology, but must also pass at the "proficient" level. Since the exams are attached to specific courses rather than grade level, students can take the Keystone Exam at the end of the course. Once a student receives a "proficient" mark, they are finished with that specific Keystone Exam. If a student fails to meet proficiency, they must retake the test. But re-taking the test isn't all they have to do. Students who do not pass the exam must then participate in some sort of remediation/supplemental instructional service. This remediation is not defined as a course but just as remediation. Students can participate in whatever method of remediation the district/school/administrator deems necessary. To my knowledge, this can be a course, tutoring, seminar or basically a program designed by your district. However, all remediation must be documented.

Tracking your students' data is one of the biggest challenges administrators and educators face with regard to the Keystone Exams. Who all took the test? Which module(s) were taken? Were they proficient or not? Do they need remediation? When do you reschedule them? Yeesh... that is a lot of information. Surely, everyone will have their own way of keeping track of all the above- but yes, it is and will be taxing. Spreadsheets will help keep track of the information- but it will definitely need to be constantly monitored. But what if a student moves or a new student moves into your district. Having access to their Keystone data is pertinent in determining your next move and visa-versa. Of course, OnHand Schools does offer a tracking system- available within our EdInsight Instructional Management System. [Who doesn't like a shameless product plug?] Either way, everyone's method of madness is completely necessary to each district/school and their students.

So how will you prepare your students for the Keystone Exams. As we know, the exam itself is made up of Constructed Response(CR) items and Multiple Choice(MC) items. Similar to the PSSA's, teachers will certainly allocate a big portion of class time to preparation for the exam. Most points will be earned from the MC items, as there are more of that particular item; however, the CR questions will prove to be more difficult. The level of critical thinking as well as complexity will be at a level our students have likely not seen on a standardized assessment in the past. Constructing Common Assessments similar to that of the Keystone Exam is a great way for students to practice the format of the test. Creating quality MC items as well as CR items with the appropriate depth and knowledge levels are challenging but will be the most beneficial to your students. The PDESAS website offers exam guides, noting standards that will be hit in the exams and the percentage of MC and CR questions.

Undoubtedly, this monster will change your approach to high school standardized testing as well as course work. Changes in the classroom, including curriculum, will surely be noticed by all involved. Schools are working around the clock to ensure their curriculum is aligned to the standards that will be assessed in the Keystone Exam. Is YOUR district ready for the monster at hand? Check out the following Pennsylvania's Common Core resources as well as OnHand School's common core crosswalk.

Category: explanatory

About The Author

Ashley Bartko