Northwestern Press

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Students complete Keystone Exams

Thursday, February 5, 2015 by ANNA GILGOFF Special to The Press in School

Despite the uncooperative weather, high school students completed their Keystone Exams before the start of the new semester.

"On two days, we had a late start followed by a day off so we had to adjust," said high school Principal Aileen Yadush. "We made accommodations as needed. It [was] really an exercise in resilience and patience, [but] the kids and the parents were awesome about adjusting."

The Keystone Exams are end-of-course assessments designed to assess proficiency in three subjects:Algebra I, literature and biology.

Depending on funding, additional Keystone Exams may be added in the future.

The inclement weather forced changes to the high school schedule as students and teachers were about to transition into the second semester.

"The closing really hurt us," said Yadush. "We had to move final exams. The students need that last day with their teachers. I think they were prepared [to take their finals] but they needed the encouragement of their teachers to do their best."

The Keystones are typically scheduled for the second and third week in January and May.

"It's a set window that Pennsylvania sets," explained Yadush. "Each time we had about 150-200 students take the test, [but] some may have taken one and some may have taken three."

Sophomores completing their English, algebra I or biology courses took the Keystones.

"This is a big year because all students must be proficient in order to get a high school diploma," said Yadush.

Though this impacts the class of 2017, this year's sophomores, Yadush said "They will have many opportunities to achieve proficiency.

"They can retest after every semester."

Despite the weight of the Keystones, Yadush said "The kids were actually really calm. They were well prepared and confident.

"They worked [from] start to finish. I expected a little more angst but I didn't find it."

According to Yadush, to help all students succeed, remediation is key.

"We build a lot of remediation into the last class.

"We [also] have remediation over flex. Math and English teachers 'pushed in' to classes to help 11th grade Lehigh Career Technical Institute kids who didn't have math or English," she said. "The teachers are doing a great job really identifying where they are in their curriculum so that they can remediate students more naturally."

Many teachers used online tools, such as Study Island to help prepare students for the Keystones.

"We practiced with Study Island," said English teacher and department Chair Pamela Reiss.

"We talked about the glossary of literary terms that would be on the test and we stressed supporting [our] ideas in homework and literary analysis."

Math teachers Jayme Baker and Erin Saulnier spent time and their own money to "put together goodie bags for algebra 1 Testers and re-testers."

The "goodie bags" were placed in testing rooms to be distributed to students after completing the exam.

The Keystones exams replaced the PSSA in math, reading and science in 2012 in an effort to increase "student, educator and school accountability."

Though many people believe accountability is necessary, others feel other educational goals are getting less attention.

"We've become so content driven it's difficult for kids to apply and synthesize new ideas. The kids need experience and practice," said biology teacher Steve Weiss.

Weiss said it's important to assess what students are learning but he also feels that "it takes away from time that we could be spending in teaching science, thinking like a scientist, thinking creatively and problem solving [which] can't be measured by any test."

"The questions on the Keystones are either too specific or they're so outside the box.

"We need to provide more opportunity for the open ended question."

The Keystones consist of multiple choice and open ended questions.

Overall, Yadush was pleased with the completion of the Keystones.

"People were really awesome with their feedback," said Yadush, who offered "a huge thank you to the high school community for getting through this season beautifully."