In February, the legislature unanimously passed a law to delay for two years using the Keystones as a graduation requirement for public school students. The exams will still be given to high school students in Algebra I, Biology and English, but passing them is not necessary to receive a diploma. During this time, the legislature is supposed to investigate alternate assessments above and beyond standardized testing.
However, Dinniman sent out an email to supporters this week claiming PDE is “blatantly ignoring the law and issuing directives to local school districts to use the exam if they want to for graduation.”
This goes against the delay, says Dinniman. The legislature is unsure requiring the Keystone Exam is a good idea, yet the state Senator contends the current administration is advising districts to move forward anyway.
Under the old law that was put on hold by the delay, if parents decided to opt their children out of standardized testing, students had to complete a Project Based Assessment. However, even though there is no test-based graduation requirement for current seniors, Dinniman says PDE still is forcing these children to complete Project Based Assessments.
“It appears that PDE is forcing the children of parents who opted out to take the Project Based Assessment, whose use is currently suspended by the legislature,” he says.
“There seems to be no respect by PDE for the rights of parents concerning their own children.”
Dinniman, who also serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, has long been a critic of the Keystone Exams. He lead the charge to delay their implementation.
Now that PDE seems committed to the project despite concerns by legislators, he is asking for parents and other concerned citizens to contact him about suing the organization.
“If you know parents or organizations who might want to take PDE to court or file amicus briefs, let me know… This is a matter of great importance. A number of us have been working for years against excessive testing and have serious concerns about Common Core.”
He will hold an open meeting for those concerned about the issue on Monday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 pm in his district office along One North Church Street in West Chester.
One of the issues at stake is the exorbitant costs of the Keystone and Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests. With education budgets shrinking at the federal, state and local level, this money diverted to huge testing corporations could be better spent elsewhere.
Since 2008, the Commonwealth has spent $1 billion to proctor, grade and create new versions of the PSSA and the new Common Core-aligned Keystone Exams. Of that figure, $741 million went to Data Recognition Corporation.
Dinniman included in his email an explanation of the Commonwealth’s contract with Data Recognition Corp., a chart showing how much has been paid to the company, a list of materials PDE requested from the company but that has not yet been provided and an article written by education historian Diane Ravitch published in the New York Times explaining why these tests are troublesome.
In 2013, the state Conference of NAACP Branches issued a statement condemning the Keystone graduation requirement in extremely strong terms.
The organization called it a “present day form of Eugenics”, “a human rights violation”, “a clandestine social movement that strips children of their dignity and self worth” and that it would deprive impoverished and minority students “of decent income, decent food, decent homes, and hopeful prospects as well as the security of justice.”
The statement can be read in full here.
In the halls of state government, Dinniman has been one of the most vocal critics of high stakes testing and national academic standards.
“I have been fighting against the use of these standardized tests as the sole determinants of high school graduation since they were first proposed by the previous [Corbett] administration in 2012.”
“Strong standards and effective assessments are needed in our schools, but they must come with the necessary resources and support to be implemented in a way that does not negatively impact both students and taxpayers,” he says.
Chester County, where Dinniman is from, has been a hotbed of testing criticism. Located in the southeastern most part of the state, parents, teachers and students publicly spoke out against the exams. Almost all school boards in the county passed resolutions opposing the Keystones and 58 superintendents and Intermediate Unit Directors up through the Philadelphia suburbs also expressed opposition.
If the delay had not been approved, this year’s seniors would have been required to pass all three Keystone Exams in order to graduate. Now the exams won’t be a graduation requirement until the 2018-19 school year.
The federal government still requires the exams be given for evaluative purposes, but it was the Republican dominated Tom Corbett administration that went the extra step of making the exams necessary to receive a diploma.
The delay is supposed to provide additional time to resolve consequences of implementing the exams. This means investigating and reporting on the following:
- Alternative methods for students to demonstrate proficiency for graduation in addition to the Keystone Exams and project-based assessments.
- Improving and expediting the evaluation of the project-based assessments.
- Ensuring that students are not prohibited from participating in vocational-technical education or elective courses or programs as a requirement of supplemental instruction.
Moreover, the newly passed federal K-12 education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), allows the Commonwealth even more leeway to implement fairer and more affective means of assessment, Dinniman says.
“Until now, education policy has been largely dominated by regulations implemented by the State Board of Education in accordance with the federal government. Some of these regulations seemed to be enacted with little to no consideration of fiscal impacts or educational value,” Dinniman said.
“However, the state legislature has a Constitutional duty and responsibility to oversee and provide for ‘a thorough and efficient system of public education.’ Going forward, I believe the legislature will be more aggressive in reasserting its role in the process.”
Dinniman can be reached by phone at 610-692-2112 (District Office) and 717-787-5709 (Harrisburg Office).
He can be reached by email here.
Below is the full text of Dinniman’s Email:
To Supporters of Ending Common Core Exams in Pennsylvania:
Despite Act 1 of 2016, which suspended any use of the Keystone exams or the Project Based Assessments for graduation purposes during the two year period of 2016-18, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is blatantly ignoring the law and issuing directives to local school districts to use the exam if they want to for graduation.
It certainly appears that PDE has shown their solid commitment to the Common Core testing process and the continued collection of data. They don’t seem to care about or respect the law. This is not government by the elected legislature but government by the bureaucracy.
You will be interested to learn the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, since 2008, spent $1.1 billion on these Common Core tests, with $741 million of that going to one testing company, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC).
Please view the supporting material at the following links:
1. An explanation of the Data Recognition Corp. (DRC) contracts.
2. A chart showing the DRC contracts, which come to $741,158,039.60, and the total paid to date of $440,512,625.69.
3. A listing of material requested from PDE but, as of this date, not provided.
4. A column from the July 23, 2016 New York Times providing background on these Common Core Exams, which in Pennsylvania are the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams.
Additionally, it appears that PDE is forcing the children of parents who opted out to take the Project Based Assessment, whose use is currently suspended by the legislature. There seems to be no respect by PDE for the rights of parents concerning their own children.
So the question now is “what will we do about this situation?” If you know parents or organizations who might want to take PDE to court or file amicus briefs, let me know.
In the meantime, I am having a meeting for those concerned about PDE’s actions in my district office, One North Church Street, West Chester, on Monday, September 12th, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.
This is a matter of great importance. A number of us have been working for years against excessive testing and have serious concerns about Common Core. Please invite your friends to join in the September 12th meeting.
Andrew E. Dinniman
State Senator, 19th District