Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Education heard testimony regarding ACT 158, Pennsylvania’s new statewide graduation requirements for high school seniors.
The Act, signed into law in 2018 but taking effect for the graduation class of 2023, requires students successfully complete three “Keystone” exams; one each in algebra, literature, and biology. While all students must take the Keystone exams, achieving a passing grade is not necessary if a student wishes to demonstrate college or career preparedness.
The other “pathways” to fulfilling the requirement include additional work in other areas should a student not earn a proficient grade on the exams. The following are the acceptable pathways as described on the Act 158 Pathways to Graduation Toolkit.
Act 158 Pathways
The Keystone Proficiency and Keystone Composite Pathways are based solely on the student’s demonstrated level of performance for each of the three Keystone Exams.
To qualify for the Keystone Composite Pathway, a student must have taken all three Keystone Exams and must have at least one Keystone Exam scaled (numeric) score of Proficient or Advanced, no Keystone Exam scaled (numeric) score of Below Basic, and the composite of the three scaled (numeric) scores must be 4452 or greater.
Students without a score in all three Keystone Exams do not qualify for the Keystone Composite Pathway (e.g., an EL student who did not participate in the Keystone Literature Exam, a student who did not participate in a Keystone Exam for religious reasons) nor do students with one or more non-numeric Keystone Exam scores attained through student performance in a prior educational setting or under Pa. Act 136 of 2020. Students with non-numeric scores may elect to participate in all three Keystone Exams, however, in order to earn the three numeric scores required to pursue the Keystone Composite Pathway.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) Concentrator
For the following three pathways, students must complete locally established grade-based requirements for academic content associated with each Keystone Exam in which the student does not have a numeric or non-numeric score of Proficient or Advanced. Additionally, students must meet other pathway-specific criteria.
For example, the Local Education Agency (LEA) might establish a passing grade in Grade 10 English (identified by the LEA as the pre-requisite course for the Keystone Literature Exam) as the local grade-based requirement for students not demonstrating proficiency on the Keystone Literature Exam. Note that a Project-Based Assessment (PBA) may be offered but cannot be required to meet the locally established grade-based requirement.
In addition to meeting local grade-based requirements for each Keystone content area in which a student has no score or a score less than Proficient, the student must also meet one of the following:
Attainment of an established score on an approved alternative assessment
Attainment of an established score on an advainced placement program exam in an academic content area associated with each keystone exam on wich the student did not acheive at least a proficient score
Attainment of an established score onan international baccalaureate diploma program exam in an academic content area associated with each keystone exam on which the student did not achieve at least a proficient score
Successful conpletion of a concurrent enfrollemtn course in an academic content ara associated with each keystone exam in wihc the student did not achieve at least a proficient score
Successful completion of a pre-approeticeship program
Acceptance to an accredited four-year nonprofir institution of higher education and evidence of the ability to enroll in college-level, credit bearing coursework.
In addition to meeting local grade-based requirements for each Keystone content area in which a student has no score or a score less than Proficient, the student must provide three pieces of evidence under this pathway regardless of the number of Keystone Exams in which the student does not have a numeric or non-numeric score of Proficient or Advanced.
At least one of the pieces of evidence must be from Section One (outlined in more detail below).
Additional evidence (the second and/or third pieces of evidence) may be met through the criteria listed in Section One – either by satisfying different criteria or by satisfying select criteria more than once:
Attainment of an established score on more than one SAT Subject Test (each a different subject or level)
Attainment of an established score on more than one AP Exam (each affiliated with a different AP course)
Attainment of an established score on more than one IB Exam (each affiliated with a different IB course)
Successful completion of more than one concurrent enrollment or postsecondary course
Attainment of more than one industry-recognized credential
NOTE: Each of the following may be satisfied only once:
Attainment of an established score on the ACT WorkKeys NCRC
Acceptance into an accredited other-than-4-year non-profit Institution of Higher Education (IHE) with the ability to enroll in college-level coursework
Prior to discussing the district’s plan, Philadelphia School District Superintendent Tony Watlington said the district was trying to position itself to become the fastest-improving urban school district in the country.
“We’re thinking about significant improvement of our four-year graduation rate, reducing our dropout rate, and improving our National Report Card test performance,” Watlington said. “We (also) know our top priority has to be safety.”
ShaVon Savage, the deputy superintendent of academic services, pointed out the complexity of the new requirements while explaining the district plan for implementation.
“This is not a situation where it was something that we could roll out without thinking succinctly about how we actually implement this, because we wanted to make sure we were communicating appropriately to families, students, and to our staff, and that we had actionable plans to provide access to all of our students,” Savage said.
Savage explained the numerous tools the district has developed as resources to students and staff, including Act 158 tool-kits, individualized graduation plans, and internal updates designed to keep staff and students aware of changing guidance.