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Pennsylvania board votes to advance statewide graduation rules

February 04, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Today's sixth-graders might want to pay special attention in high school Algebra I and II because state officials are developing new graduation requirements to test algebraic skills, along with those in eight other subject areas. Passing six of the state's 10 exams could be required of high school seniors wanting to graduate.

The 11 governor-appointed members of the Pennsylvania Board of Education voted unanimously Jan. 17 to advance regulations to form statewide graduation requirements.

"The vote that was taken by the state board of education was a preliminary vote," said Michael Race, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Race said the proposed regulations must be reviewed by the state General Assembly's education committee, Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission and Attorney General Tom Corbett.

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"There will be a period of public review and input," Race said.

The chairman of the education board estimated the process could take up to a year, he said.

Waynesboro Superintendent Barry L. Dallara said he met with state officials and has concerns the new tests will become mandatory. For now, the board of education has said the state's 501 school districts could choose to administer the new exams, accept top scores on the PSSAs, develop their own tests or accept Advanced Placement scores.

"The goal behind these graduation requirements is simple. They will ensure that a diploma has meaningful, substantive value," Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak says in a news release.

To earn a diploma, the Waynesboro Area School District already requires that students score proficient or advanced on their 11th-grade PSSAs (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment).

"If they don't pass the PSSA, we'll have an alternate form of assessment for their senior year ... to show the diploma means something," Dallara said.

Zahorchak's news release states that the proposed regulations would ensure students are proficient in math, science, English and social studies starting with the class of 2014.

The tests -- called Graduation Competency Assessments -- could be taken whenever a student feels prepared in his or her high school career, the news release states.

Twenty-three other states have implemented or laid the groundwork for state-mandated graduation exams, Race said.

The Web site for the Maryland Department of Education says that passing a High School Assessment will be a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2009.

West Virginia "is thinking of instituting one, but at the present time, we do not have one," said Gail Woods, spokeswoman for Jefferson County Schools.

This year's graduating seniors in Chambersburg, Pa., will be the first class required to demonstrate proficiency on the PSSA test or district-approved equivalent, according to Eric Michael, assistant superintendent for secondary services in that Franklin County district.

"One concern we would have as a district is that while our students are held to high standards, they are also given multiple and various means to reach success," Michael said.

Dallara said the state's review process should include "getting input from educators and local schools to make sure this is the most meaningful process in local schools. Until we go through this process, we can't predict what the impact will be on local schools."

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