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The School District of Philadelphia is currently administering standardized exams for which it does not have the resources to ensure student success.

While the district places a heavy emphasis on the use of benchmark exams — which prepare students for statewide Keystone Exams required for graduation for students graduating after 2016 — Christopher Shaffer , the deputy chief of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the School District of Philadelphia, was not able to provide concrete costs or future contract plans for implementing the tests at a public hearing Wednesday afternoon .

The hearing was held in City Hall by the Philadelphia City Council’s Education Committee and was presided by Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell . Parents, students, policymakers and educators gathered to address their concerns with district spending on non-mandatory and additional testing. Members of the crowd shouted out disapproval for Shaffer’s failure to present a timeline for assessing the results of the benchmark exams toward which they put taxpayer dollars.

Despite the fact that educators are devoting up to one-third of their instructional time to prepare for standardized tests, fewer than one-half of Pennsylvania public school students are passing the statewide standardized Keystone Exams.

While impoverished school districts, like that of Philadelphia, struggle to pay for pencils and paper for students to use in test taking, the state spends millions on the Keystone Exams. Panelists and Education Committee members expressed concern over the way that these exams can act as barriers for many graduation-aspiring public school students.

“You can’t pass a test if you don’t have the books to study for them,” Temple University assistant professor of journalism and panelist Meredith Broussard said in an interview prior to the event.

Shaffer said that it is important for students to take benchmarks so teachers have “opportunities to make changes and look at pockets where there are holes of information.” Councilmen Mark Squilla and David Oh expressed concern with the implementation of these benchmarks, as they add even more costs to a school district that is short on funds and emphasize the importance of teaching to the test.

Councilwoman Maria D. Quinones-Sanchez pointed out Keystone testing can impact language minority students in a detrimental way. An audience member’s sign addressed this same point, reading, “Mono-lingual tests can’t fairly assess multi-lingual learners.”

Shaffer responded that students who have lived in the United States for over a year must take the Keystones, regardless of their English-language proficiency. He agreed that this policy could be harmful to students whose first language is not English, but no formal request has been made in Philadelphia to waive testing for language-minority students.

“We are no longer going to continue to label our kids’ failures,” Quinones-Sanchez said, “We need to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough.’”

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