Keystone Exams Overview
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and Data Recognition Corporation announced several changes related to the grade 11 PSSA assessments and the Keystone Exams. Administrators at North Allegheny confirmed this information by speaking with a representative of the PDE Bureau of Assessments and Accountability in mid-July. These changes have a direct and significant impact on public school students in Pennsylvania.
It is important to note that the PSSA will still be administered in grades 3–8 as in the past. However, the grade 11 PSSA assessments in Reading, Math, Science, and Writing have been eliminated. These tests had been in place to comply with the testing requirements outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. More specifically, student performance on these PSSA exams was a graduation requirement and part of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures required by NCLB. In addition, the PSSA-Modified assessments have been eliminated at all levels (i.e., grades 3–8 and 11). In grade 11, the PSSA assessments are being replaced by the Keystone Exams for Algebra 1, Biology, and Literature. As a result, the District expects to administer those Keystone Exams to grade 11 students this year.
The implications are far more widespread than simply affecting grade 11 students. Because Keystone Exams are designed to serve as end-of-course comprehensive exams, PDE has asked school districts to implement the Keystone Exam when the students have finished that course. Algebra 1 serves as a good example at North Allegheny. The majority of students in the District complete Algebra 1 in grade 8. The implication of this change for 2012/2013 is that the Algebra 1 Keystone Exam will be administered to students in grade 11, grade 10, grade 9, and grade 8. In addition, there are a small percentage of students in grade 6 and 7 who would also take that test. A similar scenario exists for the Biology and Literature Keystone Exams. Building Principals and teachers at the secondary level understand the testing implications. They will be working throughout the first semester and year to ensure that students are prepared for success.
Please click the following link to see the letter distributed to students for parent/guardian signature.
Proposed Testing Calendar for the 2012-2013 school year:
Class of 2014 (Current 11th Grade)
*Although students were given information from PDE that they were “deemed proficient” for graduation purposes, this “grandfathering” does not apply to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements.
Class of 2017* (Current 8th Grade)
Class of 2018* (Current 7th Grade)
During our first in-service day in August, each teacher from the secondary English, Mathematics, and Science Departments received a copy of the Keystone Exam Assessment Anchors, Eligible Content, and Glossary of Terms provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Administrators from both NAI and NASH provided an update related to the changes occurring with assessment in Pennsylvania in regards to the Keystone Exams in Algebra I, Biology, and Literature. In order to prepare students for each respective exam, the departments developed their overall approach and strategies for instruction, review, and remediation. This effort was coupled with specific expectations for all staff and with opportunities for activities that can assist in student preparation during the next several months.
For more information on Keystone Exams, please speak with your child’s teacher(s), or contact the building principal.
Starting in August, English Department staff members from NAI and NASH evaluated their curriculum to identify the inclusivity of all Eligible Content found in the Keystone Literature Exam. The purpose was to ensure that all literature and follow-up classroom learning activities aligned properly for our students. Teachers also developed and administered a 100-item diagnostic pre-test to 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students that assessed student knowledge of the Keystone Literature Glossary of Terms. Individual results were shared with the students as a way to familiarize them with vocabulary that will be used in the formal Keystone Exam. The overall results were then used by teachers to formulate dynamic lesson enhancements, both on a classroom and individual basis, which will assist the students in their communication arts preparation moving forward.
The NAI staff is currently focusing on using additional non-fictional literature in the 9th/10th grade curriculum to address the writing styles covered in the Keystone Exams. This will assist our students in gaining more experience in reading for meaning, along with enhancing their analysis and interpretive skills. The NAI staff is also developing and administering more open-ended response opportunities (short writings) that follow the Keystone Exam format. With these curriculum enrichments in place, 10th grade students will be well-prepared for the May 2013 testing timeframe, while 9th grade students will gain an opportunity to familiarize themselves with literary content found on the Keystone Exam.
In addition, the staff has communicated specific Keystone-related learning goals with 11th grade students, so they can relate their performance on the diagnostic pre-test to concepts covered in class daily. Also, all follow-up reading questions will ask students to identify, explain, interpret, describe, and/or analyze to match the prompts used regularly in the Keystone Exam. This preparation and focus will prepare the juniors for their December 11-12, 2012 testing dates. Many of these preparation activities remain embedded in our current curricular activities related to reading and writing across the curriculum.
An action plan related to the preparation for the Biology Keystone Exam was developed. As part of that plan, a diagnostic test was created by biology teachers to assess the readiness of our students and to make reasonable judgments as to what curricular areas related to the test might need to be remediated. That diagnostic test was administered to all eligible students during the final week of September. The Science Department Chair and the Science Department Liaison at NAI scored the test and looked for trends as a whole, and with subgroups. They used the data to provide feedback to the teachers. In addition, the NA Keystone Biology website was created that helps, along with the assistance of the classroom teacher, to guide students in the remediation process. A link to the website can be found on the Science Department’s home page at the North Allegheny School District website.The website has six sections.These sections include: Diagnostics; Schedule; Primary Resources; Vocabulary Modules and Quizzes; Sample Questions; and Other Online Resources.
Every eligible student has used the diagnostic test/tool on the website to identify the areas of remediation needed on an individual basis. NASH students who are not enrolled in Honors or AP courses are given at least 20 minutes per week during science class to log onto the website and continue the process of remediation. They are also expected to continue the process at home. The students enrolled in Honors and AP courses at NASH and NAI were provided with instruction regarding use of the website during class time in October, and subsequently, have been strongly encouraged to use the website at home in order to remediate their skills. Additionally, the 10th grade Honors Chemistry students have been exposed to the vocabulary modules during class time (approximately 20 minutes per week). If students at NAI show a need for direct instruction on key areas of the exam, Biology teachers are able to offer rotational days of instruction for increased preparedness.
The Keystone preparation website for Biology contains a wealth of resources designed to help students remediate in areas of difficulty. The Primary Resources on the website are short narrated lessons, in video format, for each and every eligible content area of the test. Additionally, a short quiz accompanies the video lesson. These video lessons form the backbone of the remediation process. Additionally, there are vocabulary modules on the website associated with all the eligible content items on the test, which students can use to study important terms, each with its own self-correcting quiz.Links are also provided to other online resources that will allow the students to gain additional instruction in all areas of biology and to see sample questions provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Using the website, a student can prepare for the entire exam or focus on selected areas of interest.
The science staff is encouraging all eligible students to make use of the website to the fullest extent possible, and to use the diagnostic tools to determine the level of effectiveness of the remediation. Several teachers are providing online feedback forms so that students can report to the teacher what they have learned and earn class points (providing some motivation). It is the goal of the entire Science Department to offer the best initial instruction to students in Biology, while also offering preparation opportunities to those students who are engaged in other courses of academic study.
Starting in August, Mathematics Department staff members from NAI and NASH evaluated their curriculum to identify the inclusivity of all Eligible Content found in the Keystone Algebra 1 Exam. The purpose was to ensure that all mathematics and follow-up classroom learning activities align properly for our students.
In the event that a student does not achieve a score of proficient or advanced on one or more of the Keystone Exams, he/she will need to participate in a retake. PDE has published information that there will be three testing windows each year (i.e., Winter, Spring, and Summer). Therefore, students will have the potential opportunity to retest in either the May or August testing window. For example, a grade 11 student may perform at the basic level on the December 2012 Algebra 1 test. That student could retake the Algebra 1 Keystone Exam in May 2013 or July 2013 in an effort to achieve a proficient score.