Capitol Wire: State graduation exam criticized in House committee hearing

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste. This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

HARRISBURG (June 26) Graduation competency exam requirements for Pennsylvania public schools were roundly criticized by panel and committee members during a public hearing of the House Education Committee Wednesday.

The new graduation exit exam, supported by Gov. Ed Rendell and the State Board of Education, has come under fire from critics for depleting classroom teaching.

“We don’t know what problem the state board is trying to solve,” said Pat Halpin-Murphy, the government relations director of Pennsylvania’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The real issue is a lack of reading comprehension development in the earliest grades, which wouldn’t be solved by establishing another testing obstacle for high school graduates, she said.

The tests would give accountability for the $20 billion spent on education every year, said Gerald Zahorchak, the secretary of the State Department of Education and the most vocal proponent of the proposal at yesterday’s hearing.

Zahorchak defended the proposal by telling the committee that the standards that would be mandated by the exit exam have been prioritized in the state’s elementary schools for the last six years and wouldn’t be in effect for another three under the plan.

“We have already identified what we want our kids to be good at,” said Zahorchak. “Now, you get what you expect.”

The debate has settled firmly on whether the state should first establish expectations for students – a mandatory graduation exam – or develop results – a statewide student population prepared to pass such a requirement.

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