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Schools adjusting for new tests
Michael P. Buffer - Citizens Voice

Area schools are adjusting courses and subject matter taught this year because high school students can’t graduate in 2017 unless they’re proficient on standardized tests.

Current 10th graders, the class of 2016-17, must obtain proficiency on three Keystone Exams — Algebra I, biology and literature — in order to graduate. The new Pennsylvania graduation requirement is a result of the Common Core movement to establish consistent educational standards across the U.S.

The Hanover Area School District has added two courses to deal with the new state mandate. Those courses function as Biology 1B and Algebra 1B to help students learn content tested on the Keystone Exam, Superintendent Andrew Kuhl said.

About 60 students are enrolled in each course, and some of the students already failed to reach the proficient score level on a Keystone exam, Kuhl said. During a school board work session earlier this month, Kuhl addressed two parents, who were disturbed their daughter learned on the first day of school she was placed in the new algebra course and couldn’t take a geometry course.

Math experts “felt that geometry and algebra together was one of the more difficult combinations for kids to take,” Kuhl explained to the parents.

“Understand what we are dealing with here. We are dealing with kids who have foundational problems based on the scores of that test,” Kuhl added. “It’s not like we are saying these are any two electives that we don’t want you to take together. We need to do what’s best to get them proficient on that test as soon as possible.”

Kuhl said he doesn’t like the change making the Keystone exam proficiency a graduation requirement.

“I am not a fan of a one-time test, believe me,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think having this as a graduation requirement in a one-time test is fair to the kids. But these are the cards that we are dealt. Believe me, I don’t want to be here in two years, telling parents I can’t give your kid a diploma because they weren’t proficient on a test. But that’s what the law says.”

School districts have been scrambling to deal with the new Keystone proficiency requirement as they get implementation directives from the state, Kuhl said.

“The project phase has not been fully explained to us yet,” he said.

If a student cannot achieve proficiency on a Keystone Exam after two attempts, the student can complete a project-based assessment to demonstrate proficiency in a subject area. The Hanover Area School District plans to administer the project phase to designated students in 11th grade, Kuhl said.

“There is not a great reception to this statewide,” Kuhl said. “You are talking about a one-time test that determines what you are doing with kids. This is a result of a belief that all kids should know certain things.”

Greater Nanticoke Area High School students will take the Keystone Exam in biology at the end of 10th grade, and the high school has moved away from teaching earth and space science in ninth grade to shift the emphasis on life science in ninth grade and biology in 10th grade, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said.

“The shift in ninth grade is an attempt to teach students those key concepts early to prepare them for biology and prepare them for the Keystone Exam,” Grevera said. “Giving the exam in 10th grade is early enough for those students not scoring proficient ample time to retake the exam and score proficient. Similarly, introducing key concepts in algebra earlier in the curriculum is preparing students to take the Keystone Exam in Algebra I and affording students enough time for retakes ensuring proficiency.”

The Wilkes-Barre Area School District has adjusted the curriculum by creating two new courses, Keystone Acceleration I & Keystone Acceleration II, Director of Secondary Education Brian Costello said.

A student who has not demonstrated proficiency on a Keystone Exam after one attempt will be placed in Keystone Acceleration I, which will provide supplemental instruction to reinforce the required concepts and content needed, Costello said. Students will be placed in Keystone Acceleration II if they are unable to demonstrate proficiency after two attempts on a Keystone Exam, Costello said.

The Pittston Area School District established a Keystone remediation section in which a teacher pulls students from study hall to work with them, Superintendent Michael Garzella said.

Pittston Area also has started to offer Algebra I with a one-year course, a two-year course and a course for a year and a half, Garzella said, adding the district is using a specific matrix to determine student placement in those Algebra I courses.

The Crestwood School District has “not created any new courses to address the end of course Keystone Exams” but “has worked to align current courses with the new PA Core Standards,” Assistant Superintendent Brian Waite said.

Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett announced he requested that the state Board of Education hold immediate statewide hearings on Pennsylvania’s academic content in the English language arts and mathematics standards. Corbett said he wants to roll back the national Common Core plan adopted by his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell, in July 2010 and wants standards that are specific to Pennsylvania, its students and schools.

In September 2013, the state Board of Education began the formal process of replacing the national Common Core Standards with the Pennsylvania-specific standards, Corbett said. The governor also reduced the number of Keystone Exams from 10 tests to three in algebra, biology and literature. Those changes went into effect last March.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, issued a statement in May 2013 opposing the conversation of Keystone Exams into graduation tests. PSEA President Mike Crossey said the state Board of Education had no authority to make the change because state law does not authorize using Keystone Exams as graduation requirements and because it interferes with local school boards’ power to make graduation decisions.

Nanticoke makes security changes for school year
Susan Bettinger - Times Leader

Recently appointed Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ron Grevera announced several changes to increase safety at the high school that will be implemented this school year at Thursday’s school board meeting.

The new policies include:
• All staff will now be required to wear ID badges at all times while on the school’s premises.
• Visitors to the school will no longer have access to roam freely around the campus.
• Visitors will have to sign in and wear visitor’s badges.
• Parents or others wishing to enter any of the offices will be escorted by a member of staff.
• There will be locking vestibule in the high school lobby.

Grevera is also asking for parents’ cooperation with the new safety and security measures. He is also hoping to get approval for the installation of additional cameras and door alarms.
Grevera also discussed the inclusion of classroom diagnostic tools being incorporated into the curriculum. The tests are a way of identifying issues and problems at an early stage and are in correlation with the PSSA tests.
“I know that our kids can do better” stated Grevera.
In other matters:
• The board approved the establishment of a Policy Committee within the school board. The committee is comprised of Wendy Kotsko-Wiaterowski, Megan Tennesen and Chairperson Tony Prushinski. The committee replaces the Planning Committee and will make decisions on matters such as safety, education and athletics policies.
• The bus stops for the 2014-2015 school year are listed on the school’s website
• The first day of classes will be Aug. 25.
The next school board meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11.

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