The State Senate Education Committee has approved two bills in response to Governor Corbett's proposed reductions to the Keystone Exams in a cost-cutting move.
The Keystone Exams were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2009 and meant to test the competency of students in 10 subject areas, including Algebra I and II, Literature, Biology, Geometry, English Composition, U.S. and World History, Civics and Government, and Chemistry. To graduate high school, students would have to pass six out of the 10.
State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County), the Democratic Chairman of the committee, said the exams are to be developed and implemented by 2016 and administered to middle and high school students. He said they would focus around normal school subjects and be part of the final so teachers wouldn't be pressured to "teach to the exam."
The Corbett Administration wants to cut the number of exams down to three, which would be taken in the 11th grade. The administration said the $176 million price tag to develop and implement the exams is too costly.
The senator said forcing students to take the exams in one year makes the Keystones too "high stakes."
"I know, when I learned Algebra I, a year later I wouldn't suggest you could have tested me in high school on it because I would have forgotten many of the concepts," said Dinniman. "But if I was tested at the time and as part of my coursework, it's a fair test, and I'm also going to take that test quite seriously."
So Dinniman proposed Senate Bill 1440, which would require the state to reimburse school districts for money spent preparing for the exams. He said districts have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing new curriculums.
"If you're going to change your mind in mid-stream, whether it be with school districts or any other agencies on the local level, then the state has the responsibility not only to apologize," said Dinniman, "but to apologize in a real way by giving the districts the money back, which they spent based on state promises."
Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin and York Counties), Chairman of the Committee, also introduced a separate measure which would bar the Department of Education from making changes to the exam until June 2020.
Both Dinniman and Piccola's bills were approved by the Education Committee and head to the Senate floor for a vote.
Dinniman said the decision to make changes rests initially with the state Board of Education, and if the board does so, the legislature could enact Piccola's bill barring the alterations for eight years.
He said approval of the bills is a sign that he and Chairman Piccola have built a bipartisan committee different from others in the legislature.