Pennsylvania had planned to use the end-of-course Keystone exams as a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2017, but legislators and the governor postponed that until 2019. The same legislation instructed the department to develop alternative ways to ensure students are ready to graduate.
The department's report recommends that students should be eligible to graduate if they achieve a certain combined score on the three Keystone exams or equivalent scores on an approved alternate exam or through a combination of class grades and other evidence that they are ready to succeed after high school.
"There are more ways to demonstrate college- and career-readiness beyond just single-point-in-time assessments," Matthew Stem, deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in an interview.
The requirement now on hold would have allowed a student who did not score as proficient on the Keystone exams on two tries - or once during 12th grade - to then complete a substitute known as a project-based assessment. The department found that the assessments have consumed too much time and too many resources, and recommended discontinuing them.
With the existing system, Stem said, students were being pulled from career and technical education opportunities and elective courses to make time for remedial work.
Keystone exams count as the statewide assessment for federal accountability, and students will continue to take them.
Spokesman Steve Miskin said House Republicans are reviewing the recommendations and agree that there should be an alternative to the Keystone tests, particularly for students involved in career and technical education.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association "agrees with the report's finding that high school exit exams are not the sole valid measure of students' mastery of subject matter nor a reliable indicator of postsecondary success," spokesman Wythe Keever said in an email.
The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators generally likes the recommendations, said executive director Jim Buckheit.
"It provides additional flexibility and more options for both students and schools to assess whether students are prepared to receive a diploma," he said. "It is much more realistic than a one-size-fits-all standardized test."