Senate panel shoots down new Pa. graduation exams
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
By Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HARRISBURG -- The state Senate's Education Committee today dealt a serious blow to Gov. Ed Rendell's plans to develop new Graduation Compentency Assessment tests for high school students.
Both Democratic and Republican senators angrily complained that the administration signed a $201 million, seven-year contract to develop the tests without sufficient input from the Legislature.
"This is a shot across the bow of the executive branch,'' said Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless. "It says they can't just ramrod education policies without input from the Legislature.''
The panel voted 11-0 to approve Senate Bill 281, a bill she introduced that blocks development of the assessment tests, formally called Keystone Exams, unless the Legislature votes specifically to approve them.
The bill, which goes to the full Senate next week, "prohibits the Department of Education from developing any new statewide public high school graduation requirements unless established by an act of the General Assembly.''
Ms. Orie accused state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak of "arrogance'' in signing a $201 million contract with Data Recognition Corp. of Minnesota to develop 10 tests, in subjects such as math, science, reading and others, for high school students to take to gauge their knowledge. She said many educators don't think the new tests are even needed.
"This is a terrible time to be signing a $201 million contract, when the state faces a $3.2 billion budget deficit,'' complained Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill. "The deficit is a black cloud over us.''
Mr. Zahorchak said the contract would cost the state only $8 million in the current 2008-09 fiscal year and $21 million in fiscal 2009-10, which starts July 1, which he said is only a tiny part of the department's $10 billion budget. He said that if the Legislature kills the contract, the private firm wouldn't be owed any money.
He said the assessment exams are important because many high school students are now graduating without sufficient knowledge in reading, math and other basic areas, which will hurt them both in their college years and their eventual search for jobs.
He said he has worked hard to keep senators in the loop on development of these tests and denied acting arrogantly. He said local school districts could use the state-developed tests for their students, or develop their own tests, but that would cost local districts considerable money.
Ms. Orie said the state already uses Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests to measure progress of students in several grades, including 11th. Mr. Zahorchak said some students do poorly on the PSSAs but are allowed to graduate anyway, which does them a disservice.
With Democrats and Republicans upset about not knowing enough about the Graduation Competency Assessment tests, Ms. Orie thinks the House and Senate will approve her bill. If Mr. Rendell vetoes it, she would work to override the veto.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254.
First published on June 2, 2009 at 11:55 am
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Plenty of Money for Tests
Here is perfect example of what is happening all across the country as scarce resources are being funneled from taxpayers to fund more tests while good teachers are being laid off and class sizes are increasing. Meanwhile, with more testing, we can see which kids are the biggest losers - where is the outrage? Looks like some legislators are standing up - let them know the madness has to stop.! Speak up. It's time for ACTION.