October 31, 2013
By Christian Morrow
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier
Calling it a “present day form of Eugenics” 45 NAACP branches from Erie to Easton and from McKeesport to Mercer, have signed on to a letter calling on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education to end the newly enacted requirement for high school seniors to pass the Keystone Examinations in order to graduate.
“Attaching the Keystone Examinations to graduation is clearly based on the idea that it is possible to distinguish between superior and inferior elements of society through selective scores on a paper and pencil test,” the letter states. “Pushing masses of students out of high school without a diploma will create a subculture of poverty comprised of potentially 60 percent of our young citizens.”
In addition to the state education board, the NAACP sent the letter to the education committees in both the sate House and state Senate.
To comply with the Obama administration’s Common Core education standards, the Keystone Exams were developed to replace the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam long used to weigh and compare students, school and district performance across the state. It was first administered during the 2012-2013 school year. Though students in grades 3-8 will still take the PSSA.
In its current form, Keystone Exams test proficiency in Algebra 1, biology and literature, but is slated to add sections on composition in 2019 and civics and government in 2020. Sections on chemistry and American history are also slated for inclusion. The Keystones are more rigorous than both the PSSAs, and Common Core standards.
The graduation requirement, which would first apply to students 2017 — current ninth graders, is also a requirement of Common Core, which states had to adopt as a condition of federal funding.
Students, however, can take any of the exams multiple times in order to pass, and schools must provide remedial work, structured study halls and teacher mentoring. For students who fail after that, the state has developed a project-based assessment that can be taken online with teacher guidance.
As a final option, students, schools and districts can apply for exemptions, which would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Regardless of the remedies, NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Connie Parker said the policy is unacceptable.
“Our legislative bodies aren’t functioning for the people, and the schools aren’t educating our kids,” said Parker. “They’re just teaching them to pass tests, and not doing that very well. This policy does nothing to help young people of color, and it doesn’t help poor people of any color. It needs to go.”
Calls for comment from the Pennsylvania Department of Education were not returned by Courier press deadline.