Wondering about the Keystone Exams?
In 1999, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education adopted Chapter 4, the regulation establishing high school graduation requirements as well as K-12 academic standards for all schools in the Commonwealth. In 2011, PDE replaced the PA Academic Standards with a PA-specific version of the Common Core State Standards (adopted by 48 states).These standards identify by grade level progression the knowledge and skills students should learn across content areas. They are designed to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for success in college and career. The new PA Common Core State Standards are also the basis for the revised Pennsylvania System of School Assessment administered for reading/writing and mathematics in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; for science in grades 4, 8. The Keystone Exams replace the PSSA in grade 11 (See
The PSSAs and Keystone Exams determine, from one perspective, how well students have learned. These high-stakes tests must and do influence our curricular decisions. The state gives us “standards” specifying what we should teach, and, the new Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than the previous PA Academic Standards. Yet, we know that a curriculum engaging all students' potential to become thinkers must include more than which content and skills they will learn in time for the state tests. Therefore, although we align our curriculum with the standards, it is important to understand that our curriculum philosophy includes more than just a checklist of skills and content, more than just a textbook, and more than a series of activities. The standards provide the framework of expectation (e.g., application of content and skill), but a curriculum provides coherence and a meaningful sequence of units and lessons.
Our curriculum design specifies instructional priorities and core practices, centers on big ideas, determines evidence of mastery, guarantees that all students have the optimum opportunity to acquire knowledge/skills, and, most importantly, to apply their knowledge/skills.
How do we build a K-12 curriculum that allows our students to become effective thinkers? We base it on the content and skills of the standards and organize the content and skills around questions, problems, and investigations. This organizational approach helps students build deep and enduring understandings about themes, issues, concepts, and relationships. Deep understanding about any subject comes from applying knowledge--weighing and using information to solve new problems and to make decisions. This approach also allows us to build in guided practice for students to ask “How?” and “Why?”, to make connections, question assumptions, monitor thinking processes, think collaboratively, and reason logically. When students can process and apply their knowledge in these ways, they also show us how profoundly they have learned.
Our society poses complex problems, and the Internet brings even more challenges to the ability to process information. A curriculum that organizes content and skills around big ideas incorporates learning to think and prepares students for these problems and challenges. We have committed to develop and deliver such a K-12 curriculum that prepares students not only for the PSSAs and Keystones, but, more importantly, for life.