Alison McDowell testimony to the SRC – January 21, 2016

Alison McDowell SRC 1-21-16

It was a pretty good week for Pennsylvania’s high school students. Governor Wolf said he’d sign SB880, which is a good thing, because according to your records over 14,000 students in the class of 2017 have not passed all of their Keystone exams. Some students have taken these exams three or four times. Many had IEPs or were not fluent in English, some were refugees who were just learning how to use a computer; but the District just kept putting them back on the treadmill of failure, business as usual.

Lucky for all of us the risk you took paid off, albeit probably later than you initially expected. Unlike many of Pennsylvania’s better-funded districts, our students were not given any consistent form of remedial support. They were repeatedly put in front of tests they knew they would fail, crushing their confidence twice a year. The District’s policies asked school principals to come up with remediation plans from their meager allotment of resources and staff-as if they could come up with something out of thin air.

You passed the buck. And you did the same with the Project Based Assessment option. Put it onto the principals to figure it out, while at the same time you essentially crippled daily operations through the Source4Teachers debacle. Everything is all set for the PBA you said. Just go ahead and start whenever you’re ready, knowing it was impossible.

No one at your table seems willing to own up to the fact that it is you who are ultimately responsible for making sure our children have what they need. And if you can’t get those resources for them, you must fight policies like the Keystone graduation requirement that are designed to marginalize them.

In closing I have four questions:

  1. Will the District mail a letter to every parent or guardian of a Philadelphia public school student scheduled to graduate in 2017 or 2018 that alerts them to the passage of SB880 (once it is signed) and informs them that passing Keystones Exams is no longer a requirement? This mailing should be done using District level resources such as paper, envelopes, and postage rather than asking individual schools to do this out of their own budgets, and it should be translated into the appropriate languages.
  1. Will you collaborate with superintendents, like Dr. James Scanlon of West Chester, to inform the PBA review committee about the negative impacts the graduation requirements are having on actual teaching and learning?
  1. Will you provide the public an update about the planned PBA summer school program? Is this program being put on hold? What funds were earmarked for that program, and how can they be redirected to support real, authentic learning experiences?
  1. And finally, what do I tell my child and her classmates? They are the class of 2019. Will we be repeating this same demoralizing standoff two years from now, or can we count on you in the front of this room to break your silence and be a strong public voice for our children?