Study finds many Pa. graduation tests inadequate

February 25, 2009 11:34:06 AM PST
Many of the graduation tests being used in Pennsylvania schools fail to adequately measure whether students perform at 11th grade levels in math and reading, according to a study released Wednesday. The study by two Penn State University education professors found great variation in the type of tests being used and how they are administered.

They called the study, which was commissioned by the state Education Department, the most comprehensive look at the tests school districts use as an alternative to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, which measures all students at various stages, including 11th grade.

There are districts that measure reading skills in ways that do not involve actual reading - by testing vocabulary, for example. Some districts' graduation tests credit students for their attendance, course grades or good citizenship.

Math and reading tests in just 18 of the 418 districts that were evaluated passed muster by fully meeting the study's standards, which attempted to see how they aligned with 11th grade state proficiency standards.

Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said the study shows Pennsylvania needs to take steps to ensure its high school graduates are ready for the work place.

"It's not a good situation," he said Wednesday. "The data obviously tell the story."

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education has proposed a statewide standard for graduation by 2014 that would include final exams in English, math, science and social studies, although the state school boards association and some state lawmakers oppose the idea.

In July, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission issued a report saying graduation tests should be tailored to individual districts rather than imposed uniformly across the state.

More than 50,000 students graduated in 2007 based on their local district's alternative test, and the Education Department has concluded that tens of thousands of students are currently allowed to graduate without sufficient skills.

Education Department spokesman Mike Race said the study "raises very serious questions about these local assessments, which is what we've been saying for months."


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