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By Andy Dinniman
Do you remember a teacher who changed your life? One whose patience, encouragement and passion for learning stayed with you and made a difference in who you are today?
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester
Now, do you remember a great test that you took that had the same impact? I bet you don't and I bet today's students won't either.
Of course testing has its role, but when days of instruction time are devoted to test-taking and entire classes are spent on teaching to high-stakes tests, this regimen eats away at the very core of learning.
All this focus on testing came to a head when Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) instituted the Keystone Graduation Exams in Pennsylvania.
Starting with the Class of 2017 (current freshmen and sophomores) students will have to pass exams in three subject areas (Algebra I, Biology and Language Arts) in order to graduate.
It is important to note that while the tests are required to be given to students by the federal government, using them to determine graduation, instead of just remediation, is the sole decision of the Corbett administration.
Testing to identify problem areas and helping students overcome learning difficulties is one thing -- make-or-break graduation exams are quite another.
Take a closer look at the Keystone Graduation Exams and you'll find not only excessive costs, but a program that completely defies common sense and accountability from any educational perspective.
Students who fail any of the three tests are to be offered supplemental instruction before retesting. If they fail again, they are entitled to be given a project-based assessment.
This project (and it is possible a student could be doing up to three projects in total) is to be completed under the guidance of one of their teachers, but each project must be graded by two teachers from another school.
Keep in mind, many students in poorer school districts, who are being tested based on the new Common Core curriculum, do not even have the new Common Core textbooks.
Due to state cuts, these districts are struggling to just keep their doors open. How can they be expected to provide the adequate resources for supplementary instruction?
But the ultimate insult of the Keystone Graduation Exams is that in the end the whole system is a charade.
After all the time spent preparing for the test, testing, student and parent anxiety, supplemental instruction, more testing and project-based assessments, after all is said and done a superintendent can allow up to 10 percent of a class to graduate even if they fail the tests or project-based assessments.
And that's not all: any superintendent can put together an improvement plan and with PDE approval, exempt all the other students over the 10 percent figure who failed. So where is the accountability?
Meanwhile, the state continues to spend millions upon millions of dollars on testing and, in fact, just signed a 0 million contract for more testing.
Standards are important, but you can't set standards and simultaneously cut the very learning resources that would allow students to meet the standards. In the last four years, cuts have resulted in the loss of 20,000 educators from our public schools. Each of those teachers is one who could make a profound difference in the lives of our young people.
The other day, a farmer was talking to me about the waste of time his children spent on testing instead of learning.
He said, "The whole craziness can be summed in an old Pennsylvania farm saying: 'A pig doesn't gain weight sitting on a scale.'"
Today, in Pennsylvania students don't gain knowledge by taking standardized tests. Teachers don't inspire and motivate by being test proctors and test coaches.
Sadly, years after realizing the flaws of No Child Left Behind, we in Pennsylvania seem to be pursuing a strategy of No Test Left Behind. Let's restore real learning and common sense to our schools.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman represents the 19th Senate District in Chester County. He is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Education Committee.
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