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Keystone Exams Waiver - Impacts on LEA Practices

Page last updated: May 20, 2020

This page provides local education agencies (LEAs) with guidance on Keystone end-of-course exams (Keystone Exams) in the context of the pandemic of 2020; federal assessment and accountability requirements for the 2019-20 school year; and Act 13 of 2020 (Act 13). 

Keystone Exams are a component of federal accountability determinations and state graduation requirements under Act 158 of 2018 (Act 158). Many LEAs also use Keystone Exam results to inform student course placement, end-of-course grades, and other decisions.

This varied use of Keystone Exam results requires multifaceted guidance depending on purpose, context, and local decision-making as discussed in the brief that follows. Each LEA should review its current local policies and procedures to account for any disruptions due to the Keystone Exams being cancelled for the spring of the 2019-20 school year.

Impacts on Federal Accountability

On March 27, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) approved Pennsylvania's request to waive federal assessment requirements for the 2019-20 school year, along with accountability and certain reporting requirements based on data derived from the 2019-20 school year. This waiver includes:

  • Requirements to administer assessments in the 2019-20 school year;

  • Requirements that a State engage in accountability and school designation requirements based on data from the 2019-20 school year; and

  • ESSA Report Card provisions related to certain assessments and accountability data from the 2019-20 school year.

The waiver's coverage of assessment requirements applies to the cohort of 2019-20 test takers who were scheduled to take one or more Keystone Exams in the spring of 2020 (Spring 2019-20 Cohort). Accordingly, the Federal government is not requiring any student enrolled in a Keystone Exam trigger course (Algebra I, Biology, English Literature) during the spring of the 2019-20 school year, regardless of their current grade level or expected graduation date,  to take the associated Keystone Exam(s) once schools reopen and federal assessment requirements resume. Because Keystone Exams scores are "banked" for accountability purposes and applied in grade 11, this waiver will affect students enrolled in grades other than grades 11 and 12, including as low as grade 6.

Students who took the Keystone Exams during the 2019-20 school year prior to the pandemic (i.e., summer 2019 or winter 2020) may use those results to satisfy their individual Act 158 requirements and for any local purposes. However, because 2019-20 school year cohort results will not be comparable with prior or future years results, these results will not be factored into future accountability determinations such as cyclical Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement determinations (A-TSI) (scores of students who took the Keystone Exams in the summer of 2019 or the winter of 2019-2020 as a re-tester will be attributed for the purposes of federal accountability and reporting.)

For this reason, these partial results will not be reported through Future Ready in fall 2020.The indicators relying specifically on testing data will continue to display the 2018-19 results and be labeled as such. Access additional guidance on the Future Ready Pa Index (Fall 2020 Edition).

Impacts on State Graduation Requirements

In accordance with Act 158, statewide graduation requirements take effect with the class of 2022. Act 158 provides five options for meeting graduation requirements: (1) Keystone Proficiency Pathway, (2) Keystone Composite Pathway, (3) Alternate Assessment Pathway, (4) Evidence-Based Pathway, and (5) Career and Technical Education Pathway.

The first two pathways are based solely on Keystone Exam scores. For that reason, all students, including any student enrolled in a Keystone trigger course during the spring of the 2019-20 school year, must have full access to all five options to meet graduation requirements.

Keystone Exams Administration for the Spring 2019-20 Cohort

In the 2020-21 school year, LEAs may choose to schedule a Keystone Exam make-up opportunity for the entire Spring 2019-20 cohort of students to meet graduation requirements or other purposes. If an LEA chooses not to administer the Keystone Exams for the entire cohort, the LEA must communicate that decision publicly at a meeting of the board of directors or board of trustees and post the decision on the LEA's website.

Per Act 158, all LEAs are required to notify students, parents, and guardians of the LEA's high school graduation requirements and publish such requirements on its website. Importantly, no student who was enrolled in a Keystone trigger course during the spring of the 2019-20 school year may be denied the opportunity to take any Keystone Exam they were scheduled to take during the spring 2020 administration and LEAs should provide information on updated testing and makeup windows available to those students.

Spring 2019-20 Cohort: Opt-Out

Any student enrolled in a Keystone Exam trigger course during the spring of the 2019-20 school year has the right to opt out of the assessment by parental consent, should an LEA schedule a Keystone Exam administration for the entire cohort. Parents wishing to opt their student out of such an administration are not required to follow the procedures set forth in 22 Pa. Code § 4.4(d)(4) (related to religious opt-outs).   

Spring 2019-20 Cohort: Local Policies

School entities that use Keystone Exam scores as a component of their local graduation, course selection, or other policies should consult their solicitor and governing board regarding how the cancellation of the Keystone Exams  in the spring of the 2019-20 impacted students enrolled in Keystone Exam trigger courses and scheduled to take Keystone Exams during spring 2020.

Summer 2019 and Winter 2019-20 Cohort Scores

The results for any students who took the Keystone Exams in summer 2019 or winter 2019-2020 as a "re-tester" will be attributed for the purposes of federal accountability and state reporting. However, to ensure the comparability of test results and avoid issues of sampling bias, scores from first-time testers in summer 2019 or winter 2019-2020 will not be included in federal accountability or state reporting.

2020-21 Keystone Administration

Students enrolled in a Keystone Exam trigger course for the 2020-21 school year will be required to take an end-of-course Keystone Exam in the Winter, Spring, or Summer windows of the 2020-21 school year. Only students whose parent/guardian follows the procedures set forth in 22 Pa. Code § 4.4(d)(4) (related to religious opt-outs) may opt-out of Keystone Exams during the 2020-21 school year. This 2020-21 cohort's data, including participation data, will factor into federal accountability and state reporting, graduation, and other local policy decisions.

Keystone Testing Windows

The Summer Keystone Exam window will be delayed until September 28-October 2, 2020 to accommodate LEAs in planning for make-up exams.  Students affected by the cancellation of the Keystone Exams during spring 2020 may choose to make-up one or more Keystone Exams in the delayed Summer window, the Winter testing window (December 1, 2020–January 15, 2021), or the Spring testing window (May 17-28, 2021). 

Testing Window Dates
Summer 2019-20 (delayed)September 28-October 2, 2020
Winter 2020-21 Wave 1December 1-15, 2020
Winter 2020-21 Wave 2January 4-15, 2021
Spring 2020-21May 17-28, 2021
Summer 2020-21 July 26-30, 2021

Please continue to monitor PDE's COVID-19 website for updates.

Questions may be submitted to PDE via email: RA-EDEMERGENCYRESPONSE@pa.gov.