Blog Entries

RFA Releases Analysis of 2013-14 Data on Keystone Exams

Report Release: Pennsylvania’s Keystone Exams:
An Analysis of 2013-14 Publicly-Available Data 

Beginning with the class of 2017, Pennsylvania students’ performance on Keystone exams will play a major role in whether they receive high school diplomas.

This policy, and the state’s move toward test-based accountability, has been controversial. Many supporters believe that exit exams will ensure greater equity in academic expectations statewide, while opponents contend that exit exams will narrow curriculum, burden both teachers and students, and negatively impact graduation rates–especially for disadvantaged students.

Earlier this year, test results for the 2013-14 administration of the Keystones were released; the results provide an initial indication of how students are performing.

RFA’s analysis of these data found:

  • The percentage of students scoring proficient on their first attempts on the Keystone exams ranged from 52 (Algebra) to 62 percent (Literature). 
  • Traditionally-disadvantaged students experienced particular difficulty: first administration proficiency rates ranged from 43 percent (Literature) to 31 percent (Biology).
  • Statewide, more than a quarter-million re-tests resulted in another round of below-proficient scores. Twice-failed exams trigger a requirement for districts and charters to administer labor-intensive alternative, project-based assessments.
  • If graduation requirements were in full effect today, a broad range of districts across the state–urban, rural, and suburban–would need to administer a high volume of alternative assessments.

The rollout of the graduation requirements policy is complex, and some challenges in the first years of implementation are to be expected. Still, the assessment results bear careful watching. Read the brief for more.

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RFA Featured in Education Week

This week’s edition of Education Week is focused on the opt-out movement, and features an interactive section called “Inside Opt-Out: The Pushback Against Testing.” An RFA commentary piece, authored by Jessica Beaver and Lucas Westmaas, is featured, as is a multimedia activity based on a simulation of opt-outs from our PACER brief. You can read the Ed Week feature here:

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RFA Responds to Phila. School Advocacy Partners’ Position Paper

On December 5, the Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners, or PSAP (an arm of the Philadelphia School Partnership), released a position paper that called for an “aggressive expansion of schools that are achieving results for low-income and minority students.” The document describes what it terms “high-impact” schools and “underperforming” schools. However, RFA found a number of issues with the claims made by PSAP. Click here to read our brief response.

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RFA Launches Phila. Education Research Consortium

An innovative partnership designed to 
provide research and analyses on some
of the city’s most pressing education issues has been forged among the School District of Philadelphia, the city’s charter school sector, and a Philadelphia-based, nationally-respected education research organization.

Research for Action (RFA) received a three-year grant from the William Penn Foundation to establish this partnership–designated the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, or PERC.

PERC will draw on the rich research expertise in Philadelphia–both within RFA and from three of the city’s major research universities–to conduct research that meets the information needs identified by representatives of Philadelphia’s public schools.

Its creation is groundbreaking for a number of reasons. First, PERC’s research agenda is driven entirely by the city’s school district and charter schools, not the interests of researchers. This orientation will ensure that PERC will provide timely, actionable analysis aligned with the highest priorities of Philadelphia’s educators.

Second, PERC includes an unprecedented partnership with Temple University, Drexel University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The universities will sit on the Research Advisory Committee, and their researchers will participate in PERC projects as well.

“With the launch of PERC, Philadelphia is joining a cadre of other major cities, including Chicago, New York City, Baltimore, and Los Angeles, that have the benefit of an organization devoted exclusively to improving the capacity of its public schools to make evidence-based decisions,” said Kate Shaw, RFA’s executive director and the founding director of PERC. “Philadelphia’s school leaders need support to continue to improve public education even in the face of unprecedented challenges, and RFA is thrilled to lead the effort to provide it.

Directors of three similar research consortia–the Baltimore Education Research Consortium, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, and the Chicago Consortium for School Research–will also provide strategic guidance.

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RFA’s OST Journal Article Published

RFA’s work to examine out-of-school time (OST) programming and its impact on student outcomes continues to generate attention. A journal article, authored by RFA researchers Tracey Hartmann, Brittan Hallar and Jian Gao, was published today in the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal. Click here to read the article.

Additionally, this morning, Tracey Hartmann participated on a panel on OST innovations in Philadelphia. The panel, sponsored by PSIJ and in conjunction with the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, Department of Human Services, and the Public Health Management Corporation, explored how Philadelphia’s OST sector can continue to innovate in order to meet the needs of students and adapt to local needs and culture.

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