Graduation Requirements in Pennsylvania Fail Students

Proposed New Statewide Assessment Would Create Greater Accountability

PPC Urges PA to Make Diplomas Count for all Youth

Sep 05, 2007, 01:00 ET from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children

    HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In "Ensuring
 Success for All High School Graduates," Pennsylvania Partnerships for
 Children (PPC) today recommended that the Commonwealth take steps to assure
 that all Pennsylvania high school graduates have the academic foundation
 they need by improving our statewide accountability system. PPC urges the
 Commonwealth to develop and require that every student take a series of
 statewide end-of-course exit exams called Graduation Competency Assessments
 (GCAs) that are aligned to state standards in English/language arts, math,
 science and social studies to graduate from high school. The proposal
 should be phased in by 2014.
     One of the requirements to graduate from public high school in
 Pennsylvania is that students must demonstrate achievement of the state
 standards either by scoring proficient or advanced on the 11th grade PSSA
 or a local school district assessment that is aligned to the state
 standards. In 2006, 45 percent of public high school seniors (nearly 57,000
 students) who graduated in Pennsylvania did not score proficient on the
 11th grade reading and math PSSAs or 12th grade re-take, or did not take
 the PSSAs -- yet received high school diplomas based on local assessments.
 The report shows that 461 of Pennsylvania's 498 school districts that
 awarded high school diplomas in 2006 graduated at least 20 percent more
 students than scored proficient on the 11th grade PSSAs and 12th grade
     The report concludes that the state has a responsibility to ensure that
 all high school students receive a diploma that confirms their achievement
 to the state standards and creates the same opportunity for all students
 everywhere to be successful.
     "Pennsylvania is a state with a long history of local control over
 education matters, but we have an obligation to our youth to take steps to
 assure that all students have met the Pennsylvania academic standards which
 prepare them for the next phase of their lives," said Joan L. Benso,
 President and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC). "The
 disparity between graduation rates and performance on PSSAs is cause for
     To ensure students are proficient in the state standards and have the
 academic requirements they need to be successful in postsecondary education
 and careers, PPC recommends Pennsylvania eliminate the local assessment
 option and develop a series of statewide end-of-course high school exit
 exams, called the Graduation Competency Assessments (GCA). As a
 prerequisite for graduation, students should be required to take a series
 of GCAs and demonstrate proficiency on the state standards by either
 passing the GCAs or by scoring proficient or advanced on the 11th grade
 PSSAs or the 12th grade PSSA re-take.
     Benefits of the GCA include placing assessments closer to the point of
 instruction and creating a sense of relevance for testing and progress of
 all students; assessing smaller bodies of knowledge at one time; allowing
 students to begin taking the GCAs earlier and having multiple opportunities
 to retake and pass; and diagnosing specific areas of weakness allowing for
 targeted remediation.
     PPC believes that school districts should be able to decide other
 graduation requirements such as course requirements, determination of
 whether students pass courses and other elements such as graduation
 projects, but that all our youth pass a common set of exams prior to
 graduation. Replacing the local assessment with GCAs would build common
 expectations for all youth across the state and create uniform
 accountability for students in all school districts.
     "We need to give kids a chance to achieve to the same high expectations
 and we believe school districts will rise to the challenge by increasing
 rigor and improving instruction as part of the reforms necessary to prepare
 our youth to succeed after high school," Benso said.
     "For example, when a student completes Algebra I in one Pennsylvania
 school district, we have no way to be sure that his or her mastery of those
 critical math concepts are comparable to a student who has taken Algebra I
 in another school district," Benso added. "The purpose of the state
 accountability system should be to assure that all children, regardless of
 where they attend school, master the core standards."
     PPC's report notes that the Commonwealth should take a more
 comprehensive approach to providing support to students, teachers and
 school districts by developing a model core curriculum; implementing a
 sixth and ninth grade intervention system; creating remediation for
 students who don't pass the GCA; and other reform measures.
     Data used in the report shows that 25 states have or are phasing in
 mandatory high school exit exams which require students pass an exam or
 series of exams to receive a high school diploma. By 2012, more than 70
 percent of all American public high school students will be required to
 take and pass one or more exit exams to receive a high school diploma.
     More information and a PDF of the report may be obtained by visiting or by calling Kathy Geller Myers, PPC
 Communications Director, at 717-236-5680,

SOURCE Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children