Understanding Keystone Exam remediation

Partners Post, June 2014

Attention, parents of children who are sophomores and younger!

Last October, the Pennsylvania Board of Education passed regulations that require all students to take state exams, initially in three subjects – algebra, biology, and English literature. Known as the Keystone Exams, these end-of-course tests will be administered up to three times each year, in the winter, spring, and summer. Students who do not score proficient or above on the first administration of the exam must retake it (or parts of it) until they can demonstrate proficiency or until they are eligible to demonstrate proficiency by completing a state developed project.

Included within the new regulations is the mandate that school districts provide supplemental instruction for any student who fails an exam or a part of the exam in any of the three subjects. Participation in this district-provided supplemental instruction is required for students who want to retake the test and for students who want to become eligible to demonstrate proficiency through the satisfactory completion of a state project.

In order to substitute a project for proficiency on the Keystone exam, sophomores and juniors – any student below the 12th grade – must meet all of the following conditions:

  1. Have taken the course associated with the exam;
  2. Have been unsuccessful in achieving a score of proficient on the Keystone Exam after at least two attempts;
  3. Have met the district’s attendance requirements for the course; and
  4. Have participated in a satisfactory manner in supplemental remedial instructional services.

If a student fails to complete the project-based assessment, the student may not graduate and may not receive a diploma (unless the superintendent of schools grants a waiver because of an extraordinary individual situation).

It is important for parents and students to know that the Keystone Exams replace the statewide assessments for 11th-graders formally known as the PSSA series. The shift to the end-of-course exam format now means that in whichever grade students take algebra, biology, and English literature, they will need to take the Keystone Exam associated with that course regardless of their grade level. The exams may be taken in either middle school or high school.

Keystone Exams include multiple-choice questions and constructed-response, or open-ended, questions. For each Keystone Exam, approximately 60 percent to 75 percent of the total score will be from multiple-choice questions, and 25 percent to 40 percent of the total score will be from constructed-response questions.

Parents will receive their child’s score of Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, or Advanced in the mail following the student’s participation in the exam. A student who receives either Below Basic or Basic will be required to retake the exam module. If this happens, we recommend the parent contact the school counselor or homeroom teacher to set up a meeting. The meeting serves at least three purposes:

  • To find out what options the district has for remediation;
  • To share your concerns with the district; and
  • To engage your child in the process so they understand the gravity of the situation.

Here are some questions to consider for the meeting that can help parents successfully advocate for their student:

  • How did my child handle the testing room and exam?
  • What options does my child have for remediation? (The State Board does not prescribe a specific type of remediation; consequently, it is up to each district to create their own remediation process to help students achieve success on the Keystone Exams.)
  • How does remediation impact my child’s course offerings for the next semester and beyond? Does it reduce the number of electives my child can take while in high school?
  • Has my child had training in test-taking strategies?
  • How long will my child be in remediation? How do I get feedback from the teacher as to how well my child is doing while in remediation?
  • When is the next opportunity my child will have to take this Keystone Exam?
  • What can I do as a parent to help my child?
  • I would like my child and I to meet with the remediation teacher to set up communications and be part of the team to assist my child.
  • Can I have a copy of the book or resources so I can follow up and work with my child at home?
  • Will my child have any opportunities to engage in remediation with any peers who were successful passing the Keystone Exams? (Some students find success working with other students.)
  • I would like feedback on what school staff feels about the other Keystone Exams and my child’s current skill set. Should I be concerned and make plans so that my child does not face remediation with the other Keystones?

In a future edition of Partners Post, we will address issues facing families who have students with IEPs. A request has been placed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education for some clarification regarding students with special needs, and the expectation is that that there will be a Question and Answer document to address this aspect.




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