Mars parents learn about exam plans
October 3, 2012
ADAMS TWP — About 80 parents came to the Mars High School open house a half-hour early Thursday evening to learn about the school's plan to transition from the old state mandated test to the new. Principal Todd Kolson explained the process the district will use to switch from the Pennsylvania System of Schools Assessment (PSSA) to the new Keystone Exams created by the state Department of Education. The tests are used to determine whether districts have reached the state's adequate yearly progress. Juniors are required to take the algebra I, English literature and biology Keystone Exams in the current school year. Mars students below the junior class who take algebra I, English 9 or biology 9 courses also will be required to take the corresponding Keystone Exams this year. Kolson said the school recently sent parents a letter detailing the Keystone Exams that included basic information on what grade levels will take the test, when the exams will be offered, in which subjects the exams will be given, and remediation for students who fail the Keystones. Thursday's forum offered parents more details regarding Mars' transition plan from the PSSAs to the Keystones and how students will be affected by them. The plan was approved by the school board on Sept. 5. School districts were forced to create their own transition plans from the PSSAs to the Keystones, as the state mandated the change without providing guidance on changing from the old test to the new. The main concerns in the changeover, Kolson explained, are: n Administering the algebra I Keystones to sophomores and juniors who have not taken the class since eighth grade. He said 85 percent of Mars students take Algebra I in eighth grade. n Sophomores and juniors taking the Keystones seriously because the tests will not become a graduation requirement until the Class of 2016. If they don't, the school's AYP could suffer. n Required remediation classes for students who fail a Keystone Exam could affect vo-tech students and limit the number of electives that students could take because of time constraints. In a question-and-answer period, parents learned that last year's eighth-graders who took algebra I will take the algebra I Keystone test in December. The scores of students who pass the exam will be banked until their junior year. Parents also learned that teachers and administrators are working to build algebra I concepts into trigonometry, calculus and other advanced math classes for juniors, who have not taken algebra I since eighth or ninth grades and must take the algebra I Keystone this year. Parent Renee Versaw said Kolson's presentation was helpful, and added that the state should have provided schools with a transition plan instead of dropping the new tests on administrators and expecting them to scramble for a plan. Tracey Nypaver said she does not have a problem with the state mandating standardized testing, but agreed that a plan should have come along with the new exams. After parents left to attend the open house, Kolson said that another presentation on the transition will be given soon.