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PA code 22 Chapter 4 allows for opting out of state testing based on religious beliefs. Parents in PA trying to opt out of the new Keystone Exams (a replacement for the PSSA exams) are being told no because the Keystone Exams, in addition to being used for AYP, are used as a requirement for graduation.

The Keystone Exams are high-stakes state tests and the provisions in the PA Code should apply. Since the PSSA Exam is going away, this means that opting out of state testing will not be an option anymore.

Do parents have a legal right to opt out of the Keystone Exams in the same way they opted out of the PSSA Exam? Many PA Districts have published FAQs telling parents that opting out of Keystone Exams is not allowed.

Looking for advice…..thanks, Pamela

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Hi, Pam.

Good question.

This is something we're looking into.

The State Board is meeting on Wednesday and Thursday and Thursday to approve final Chapt. 4 regulations.

The agenda is attached.

There is an opportunity for public comments.


Brett S.


Hi Brett,

I wish I knew about this….I'm not able to attend.  Where can I find a copy of the proposal?  

Hi, Pam.

The proposed changes are attached. These were sent to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and were sent back with suggested changes. We haven't seen those yet. Still working on that. 

But if you look on page 7 you'll how they amended the opt-out provision.


Hi Brett,

Thanks for sharing.  As I interpret the changes, the Keystone Exams still fall into the category of State Assessments and therefore, parents have the right to opt-out for religious reasons. In addition, here is a PDE Parent Guide that indicates parental right to opt-out of Keystone Exams. 

If that is the case, why are Districts explicitly telling parents that they can't opt-out of Keystones?  Shouldn't District's have alternative methods in place to meet graduation requirements for the students?  A quick google search for 'PA Keystone opt out' gave me the following from Districts saying that parents can't opt-out of Keystone Exams: Seneca Valley SD ", East Penn SD, Bensalem SD, and Shaler Area SD.  

Parents in the Pittsburgh SD are being told they can't opt-out of the Keystone Exams, even though it is not a graduation requirement until 2017.  We need help.  Thanks, Pam

Yes Brett,

The Keystones are not to be used "officially" for graduation requirements by the state until 2017.  Are districts free to decide that until then they can use them as graduation requirements as part of local graduation requirements?

That is somewhat problematic considering that the keystones have just started being implemented.  As far as I know there has been no psychometric work to establish validity and reliability.  This is why the state is waiting until 2017 to start using a portion of the scores to factor in to graduation decisions.

Why would districts want to use what be really bad tests?


Here's what the State Board approved. It's terrible.

(This summary is from PSBA)

State Board of Education adopts new revisions to Chapter 4 regulations
This week the State Board of Education approved extensive changes to its draft revisions of the Chapter 4 regulations for academic standards and assessment that received the board’s initial approval last May. This latest version of Chapter 4 changes will now be move the second stage of the formal approval process and be transmitted to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the Senate and House Education Committees for consideration.

The following is not a complete report on the changes. PSBA will be providing a detailed report of the numerous changes in the final-form draft of the regulations on its website and School Leader News.

Among the highlights, the revised regulations will:

· Require proficiency in Algebra I, Biology and Literature Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2017.

· Subject to state funding, add two additional Keystone Exam graduation requirements: a Composition exam as a requirement for the class of 2019, and a civics and government exam for the class of 2020.

· Change the use of the Keystone Exams to a stand-alone requirement for graduation; the scores will not be one-third of a final course grade.

· Require school boards to adopt the new graduation requirements within six months of the effective date of the new Chapter 4 and provide a copy to parents and students, and make them available in each school building or on its website.

· Remove the state-prescribed strategic planning requirement; however there is a 28-day public inspection and comment period prior to school board adoption for the remaining six required plans (teacher induction, student services, gifted education, professional development, special education, and pre-kindergarten if the school offers it).

· Change the provision for parental opt-out for religious reasons to require parents to explain their objection and also to require those students who are not taking Keystones to take the project-based assessment.
· Allow a student who did not score proficient on a Keystone Exam to retake the test without limit. A student who scores proficient or advanced is not permitted to retake the test. A student who does not score proficient must receive instructional remediation.

· Allow students who have two failed attempts to demonstrate proficiency on a Keystone Exam to participate in a project-based assessment. A change removes the two-year requirement to receive remediation before a student is allowed to participate in a project. Another change allows seniors to participate in a project after just one unsuccessful attempt to pass a Keystone Exam.

· Require the current highest performance level by Keystone subject area to be listed on a student’s transcript, and designate whether the level was achieved by the Keystone Exam or by the project-based assessment.

· Allow two alternate pathways for students enrolled in a career and technical education program. First, such students may demonstrate proficiency on the Keystone Exams or a Pennsylvania Skills Assessment to meet the requirement for testing in composition, and civics and government. Second, such students who did not demonstrate proficiency on the Biology Keystone Exam may participate in a project-based assessment without having to take the Keystone twice. These pathways relate to graduation requirements; students would still be required to take Keystone Exams for state accountability purposes.

You can take it as bad news or you can this take as great news.  The requirement to make Keystones 100% graduation requirements is actually (from a research standpoint) easier to attack.  All the research is conclusive that "EXIT EXAMS" (and that's what the Keystones will be) cost the state millions of dollars, drive down graduation rates, limits student's actual learning and that single variable assessments should NEVER be used to make high stakes decisions.  When it was proposed to be 1/3 they had a better case that was semi-supported by research that high stakes decisions should be comprised of multiple measures.

Also explaining why people are opting out will allow people that have felt uneasy about using religion as their "reason."  Most parents want to OPT OUT  because HIGH STAKES TESTS are never valid!


I agree with you Tim.  How about this change?  

Remove the state-prescribed strategic planning requirement; however there is a 28-day public inspection and comment period prior to school board adoption for the remaining six required plans (teacher induction, student services, gifted education, professional development, special education, and pre-kindergarten if the school offers it).

Hi Pam -

Opting out is allowed but a student must take a project-based assessment for each subject area required for graduation

Here's info posted on PSBA's website:

Parental opt-out – The regulation gives parents/guardians the right to review any state assessment two weeks prior to administration to determine whether the assessment conflicts with their religious beliefs. The school must have procedures in place to be followed when a request is made, and the procedures must be consistent with guidance provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) in its assessment administration instructions. In asserting a religious objection to the assessment, a parent/guardian must explain the objection in their written request for excusal.

Project required for opt-out students – Students who are not taking Keystone Exams under the parental opt-out provision must take the project-based assessment for each subject area required for graduation.

It is my understanding the project-based assessment is another test.  I am not sure how opting out of one test to take another test is opting out.

I have two boys, graduating with the class of 2015. Both have IEPs for OHI and one can seem to answer questions regarding what accomodations will be made for students like my own. Seem it would have been more logical to start reallgning curriculum with the children beginning first grade and working toward successful completion of the Keystone content with their graduating class rather than tying to play catch up 10 12ths of the way through high school now. They are NOT going to pass proficient. One hasn't even had a regular English class since 8th grade!!! Any input?

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