The fallibility of Keystone Exams

Share Button

In the past couple of weeks, the instructional day at Haverford High School has been compromised six times due to the now infamous Keystone Exams. For the student not obligated to take them, they offer the gift of a two-hour delay and sleep. For a student who has to actually take one, two, or even three of the exams, they are the product of evil legislators and test-makers.

The methodology behind the Keystone Exams is simple enough. They strive to assess student proficiency in Algebra I, Biology, and Literature skills. The simplicity, though, ends there, as this process becomes arbitrary and flawed.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and state legislators consider these three topics to be the most demonstrative of a high school graduate’s academic success; in essence, if a student passes these three exams, they are deemed fit for “the real world” and are permitted to graduate. However, anyone can contest this claim and argue that there are certainly more important skills by which graduates should be assessed—and likely be correct. Is an understanding of rather complex biology really a necessity for a life beyond high school? Because skills in personal finance and technology, for example, would be higher on my list for the average person.

And it is almost comical that the State would consider proficiency in Algebra I enough for graduation. This level of mathematics is taught in some middle school classes, including Haverford Middle School’s. The more applicable skills of geometry, in my mind, would be worthier of assessment. There is a false sense of security provided by the PDE when a student receives a proficient or advanced score; they should not believe that they are ready to graduate based solely on Keystone Exam performance, as the state seems to imply. 

To make matters worse, the Keystone Exams assess what they expect students to learn from their teachers instead of what they have actually been taught. That is, students acing Algebra I in class may still not pass the Keystone Exam in the same subject. And yet the blame is put on the student, who is now in danger of not graduating with his or her class, when the onus should be placed on teachers and/or the curriculum.

Despite what schools would like the masses to believe, there are teachers who are not so great at what they do. Why should the teaching profession be viewed differently than any other in regard to varying degrees of competence? As a result, the information presented to students differs between teachers, and the grades students are given reflect their understanding of teacher-selected material. The Keystones, on the other hand, evaluate the standards the PDE has set—the standards which Pennsylvania public schools are to uphold in their instruction. Therefore, many students are punished for erroneously chosen curricula, which do not reflect PDE standards, and/or the insufficient instruction of their teachers.

While Keystone Exams allow some students to miss substantial chunks of instructional time, which from most students’ perspectives, is a good thing, they hurt the academic potential of others, whether it be by a never-ending cycle of remedial, test-driven courses or by putting at risk on-time graduation, and by extension, college, vocational school, and work opportunities. Much like the PSSAs, they have almost indecipherable scoring systems that mask how well an individual actually performs. Quite frankly, too many problems plague the Keystone Exams. It is time to move on to a less time-consuming (you are welcome, teachers) assessment system that focuses on truly important takeaway skills from a high school education and is not a graduation requirement until proven sound, effective, and well-organized. 

Share Button