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April 26, 2023 Meeting Minutes - Revisiting Graduation Requirements

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

PALS Meeting Minutes

April 26, 2023 9:30 a.m.

Virtual Meeting using Zoom


Open Forum

Open Forum is an opportunity for participants to come together and discuss a variety of topics, offer resources, and ask questions related to special education.


Revisiting Graduation Requirements in FCASD

In February we discussed Graduation Requirements in general. This conversation included state and local requirements, Act 158, and information on the graduation requirements of different school district's in Western Pennsylvania. Those minutes are below for reference.


Since we know students receiving Special Education services through an IEP can graduate by meeting a school district's requirements, waivers, or through an IEP Team's decision, today we focused on typical requirements set forth by Fox Chapel Area School District (FCASD). We focused on two aspects; FCASD graduation requirements and the availability/transparency of FCASD graduation requirements.


FCASD Graduation Requirements

Students in Pennsylvania must take the Keystone Exams at least one time per subject area for federal accountability. It is what happens if a student does not meet proficiency where FCASD stands out. PA school districts are not awarding graduation credit for passing Keystone Exams. All PA high school graduates must meet proficiency standards and there are multiple avenues to attain that achievement. The majority of students will score proficient or above within two attempts at the Keystone Exam but additional pathways exist to achieve proficiency. Students who have 504 designation, but no IEP could face hurdles in FCASD in trying to achieve the Fox Chapel specific requirements on top of the commonwealth requirements.


A search was done on the top ten high schools in Allegheny County and Pennsylvania; 20 schools total. Of these, Fox Chapel Area School district is the only one that imbeds the passing of all required Keystone Exams as a graduation credit. To be clear, students are required to earn a total of 27 credits to graduate in FCASD and 1 of those credits is issued at the passing of all required Keystone Exams. See the image below:


Availability/Transparency of FCASD Graduation Requirements

When we search the Fox Chapel Area School District (FCASAD) and Fox Chapel Area High School (FCAHS) websites for information regarding graduation requirements we find the bare minimum like the image above which came from the 2023-2024 Course Description Guide. By bare minimum we mean the reader is left thinking reaching these 27 credits, which includes passing the state-required testing, is the ONLY way for a student to graduate from FCAHS. Students and families only have the opportunity to learn about additional pathways through individual student counseling and maybe the annual meeting discussing graduation. The issue is this information is not available on the either the FCASD or FCAHS websites. There are many families who are unable to attend the annual meeting or may not understand the alternative pathways when mentioned in that meeting or individual student counseling sessions. In the name of equal access for all and with 10–14% of the students needing alternative pathways, transparency is key. Providing a dedicated page of ALL graduation requirements and pathways on the FCASD and FCAHS websites, specifically under Quick Links on the FCASD home page and FCAHS home page is essential. See examples of how other school districts in the area provide this information to their community.


Additionally, districts have informed students and families about Act158 and provided PDFs, slide decks and videos explaining the pathways in which all Pennysvankia students must attain.


FAQs from Radnor School District (number one district in PA)


NOTES FROM FEBRUARY 2023

Graduation Requirements

We discussed the reality of Graduation Requirements for all students. As a group focused on families with students receiving Special Education services, it is easy for us to think about Waivers and IEP Team decisions. However, this may not be the case for ALL students receiving services and a reminder that we should be well versed in all graduation requirements. We took a look at the subject from the state down to the district, speaking specifically about FCASD. This conversation led us to one question; why is it so difficult to find all the graduation requirement information on the website?


The FCASD School Board Directors Academic Committee met on February 7, 2023 and discussed graduation requirements as they relate to ACT 158. The Commonwealth of Pennyslvania enacted Act158 to provide a choice of pathways to proficiency in core subjects for commonwealth students. It is a local decision to go beyond Act 158, many districts understand the barriers placed in front of students as they recover from learning loss during the pandemic years and have locally decided to fully accept all pathways as provided in Act 158. The first impression a family may get from FCASD is that they have chosen to go beyond Act 158, by indicating that students must score proficient on all three Keystone Exams. In reality the Board of Directors entirely adopted ACT 158 under Policy 217, along with FCASD's Administrative Regulation 217-AR. In reality, the completion of the Keystone Exams by students are required for the purposes of federal accountability. Because failure to do so would affect the school district's participation rate many school districts push the Keystone Proficiency Pathway to insure students and their families do not "opt out" of taking the exams, or work toward one of the other Pathways Act 158 offers.


We breakdown the details of our conversation below:


State Level Law and Guidance

Act 158

"Act 158 of 2018 (Act 158), signed into law by then Governor Tom Wolf on October 24, 2018, provides alternatives to Pennsylvania's statewide requirement of attaining proficiency on the three end-of-course Keystone Exams (Algebra I, Literature, and Biology) for a student to achieve statewide graduation requirements.
Effective with the graduating class of 2023(1), students have the option to demonstrate postsecondary preparedness through one of four additional pathways that more fully illustrate college, career, and community readiness. Keystone Exams will continue as the statewide assessment Pennsylvania uses to comply with accountability requirements set forth in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Although students will no longer be required to achieve proficiency on the Keystone Exams to meet the statewide graduation requirement, students must take the Keystone Exams for purposes of federal accountability. Failure to do so will affect a Local Education Agency (LEA) and school's participation rate." ~ Pennsylvania Department of Education
(1) Pa Act 136 of 2020 delayed implementation of Act 158 requirements, now effective with the graduating class of 2023.

Pathways

"For students graduating in 2023 and beyond, five pathways exist for meeting state high school graduation requirements:
  • Keystone Proficiency

  • Keystone Composite

  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) Concentrator

  • Alternative Assessment

  • Evidence-Based

"NOTE: Alternatively, a student may be granted a diploma via a waiver or special education program (IEP)."
"Any student with a disability who satisfactorily completes a special education program developed by an individualized education program team under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and 22 Pa. Code Ch. 14 (relating to special education services and programs) that does not otherwise meet the requirements of Act 158 or Act 6 shall be granted and issued a regular high school diploma by the student’s LEA. Note: Students who graduate in this manner are not considered to have been granted waivers under Act 158."
"All English Learners (ELs) are required to participate in the Mathematics PSSA or Algebra I Keystone Exam and the Science PSSA or Biology Keystone Exam with accommodations as appropriate regardless of enrollment date. NOTE: All ELs are required to take the WIDA ACCESS for ELs English Proficiency Test.
However, an EL student whose enrollment in any US public school is fewer than 12 cumulative (not consecutive) months by the end of the year in which the PSSA ELA/Keystone Literature testing window occurs has an option to take the associated exam. Enrollment in a school in any US territory, such as Puerto Rico, is not to be considered enrollment in a US public school.
An EL may be exempted only once from participation in the PSSA ELA or Keystone Literature Exam. For example, if an EL student was exempt from participation during a previous test administration, the student must participate during the current testing window regardless of length of enrollment.
An EL student who does not participate in the Keystone Literature Exam as an 11th or 12th grade student must satisfy the requirements of Act 158 and Act 6 through a pathway other than the Keystone Proficiency or the Keystone Composite Pathways or graduate via a waiver or IEP. The CTE Concentrator, Alternative Assessment, and Evidence-Based Pathways and the waiver require EL students to complete locally established grade-based requirements for academic content associated with each Keystone Exam in which the student did not demonstrate proficiency."

Waivers

"To accommodate a student in Grade 12 or a student who experiences extenuating circumstances2 (e.g., serious illness, death in the student’s immediate family, family emergency, frequent school transfers, transfer from out-of- state in grade 12), a chief school administrator may waive the requirements for proficiency in Keystone Exams or other pathway-specific criteria. Students granted waivers are still required to successfully complete locally established, grade-based requirements for academic content areas associated with each Keystone Exam in which the student does not have a numeric or non-numeric Proficient/Advanced.
If the waivers granted by a chief school administrator exceed more than five percent of students in a graduating class, PDE will conduct a review of the waivers granted by the LEA. The LEA will be required to submit an improvement plan to PDE and will be subject to an audit conducted by PDE unless PDE determines that the five percent threshold was exceeded because waivers were granted to students who experienced extenuating circumstances.
(2)Per State Board of Education resolutions, the pandemic also may be considered an extenuating circumstance for which a waiver may be granted to students in the graduating classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025."

PA Pathways to Graduation Quick Guide.

Printable Download

Pennsylvania_Pathways_to_Graduation (5)
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.12MB

Keystone Proficiency and Keystone Composite Pathways

"The Keystone Proficiency and Keystone Composite Pathways are based solely on the student’s demonstrated level of performance for each of the three Keystone Exams."

Keystone Proficiency

"Students achieving a minimum scaled score of 1500 or better (or who qualify for non-numeric scores of Proficient) in each of the three Keystone Exams meet the Keystone Proficiency statewide requirements for high school graduation.
Students who do not have a numeric or non-numeric score of Proficient or Advanced in all three Keystone Exam areas (Algebra I, Biology, and Literature) do not qualify for this pathway; by way of example, an EL student who did not participate in the Keystone Literature Exam or a student who did not participate in a Keystone Exam for religious reasons.
NOTE: Where a student performance level on Keystone academic content is determined without the associated Keystone Exam result, a non-numeric score is assigned. There are two circumstances under which this might occur:
  • The student has demonstrated proficiency through comparable coursework and an equivalent assessment in a prior educational setting (i.e., transfer student), or

  • The student has demonstrated proficiency through Keystone related coursework per Pa. Act 136 of 2020 "

Keystone Composite Pathways

"To qualify for the Keystone Composite Pathway, a student must have taken all three Keystone Exams and must have at least one Keystone Exam scaled (numeric) score of Proficient or Advanced, no Keystone Exam scaled (numeric) score of Below Basic, and the composite of the three scaled (numeric) scores must be 4452 or greater.
Students without a score in all three Keystone Exams do not qualify for the Keystone Composite Pathway (e.g., an EL student who did not participate in the Keystone Literature Exam, a student who did not participate in a Keystone Exam for religious reasons) nor do students with one or more non-numeric Keystone Exam scores attained through student performance in a prior educational setting or under Pa. Act 136 of 2020. Students with non-numeric scores may elect to participate in all three Keystone Exams, however, in order to earn the three numeric scores required to pursue the Keystone Composite Pathway."

CTE Concentrator, Alternative Assessment, Evidence-Based Pathways

"For the following three pathways, students must complete locally established grade-based requirements for academic content associated with each Keystone Exam in which the student does not have a numeric or non-numeric score of Proficient or Advanced. Additionally, students must meet other pathway-specific criteria.
For example, the Local Education Agency (LEA) might establish a passing grade in Grade 10 English (identified by the LEA as the pre-requisite course for the Keystone Literature Exam) as the local grade-based requirement for students not demonstrating proficiency on the Keystone Literature Exam. Note that a Project-Based Assessment (PBA) may be offered but cannot be required to meet the locally established grade-based requirement."

CTE Concentrator

"In addition to meeting local grade-based requirements* for each Keystone Exam content area in which a student achieves less than Proficient, the student must also meet one of the following:
- Attainment of an Industry-Based Competency Certification related to the CTE concentrator’s program of study. OR - Demonstration of high likelihood of success on approved industry-based competency assessment as demonstrated by performance on benchmark assessments, course grades, and other factors consistent with the CTE concentrator’s goals and career plan and as determined by a chief school administrator in consultation with an area vocational-technical school director or principal of a comprehensive high school. The determination shall be made no later than the end of the eleventh grade, or, if a student enrolled in a one-year program, the end of the first semester of twelfth grade. OR - Demonstration of readiness for continued meaningful engagement in a CTE Concentrator Program of Study as demonstrated by performance on benchmark assessments, course grades, and other factors consistent with the CTE concentrator’s goals and career plan and as determined by a chief school administrator in consultation with an area vocational-technical school director or principal of a comprehensive high school. The determination shall be made no later than the end of the eleventh grade, or, if a student enrolled in a one-year program, the end of the first semester of twelfth grade.
*Completion of local grade-based requirements in any science and technology and environment and ecology course shall satisfy the requirements for the academic content area associated with the Keystone Exam in Biology for CTE concentrators."

Alternative Assessment

"In addition to meeting local grade-based requirements for each Keystone content area in which a student has no score or a score less than Proficient, the student must also meet one of the following:
  • Attainment of one alternative assessment score or better: ACT (21), ASVAB AFQT (31), PSAT/NMSQT (970), or SAT (1010)

  • Attainment of Gold Level or better on ACT WorkKeys

  • Attainment of 3 or better on AP Exam(s) related to each Keystone content area in which less than Proficient

  • Attainment of 4 or better on IB Exam(s) related to each Keystone content area in which less than Proficient

  • Successful completion of concurrent enrollment course(s) related to each Keystone content area in which less than Proficient

  • Successful completion of a pre-apprenticeship program

  • Acceptance into accredited, non-proft Institution of Higher Education (IHE) 4yr program for college-level coursework


Evidence-Based Pathways

"In addition to meeting local grade-based requirements for each Keystone content area in which a student has no score or a score less than Proficient, the student must provide three pieces of evidence under this pathway regardless of the number of Keystone Exams in which the student does not have a numeric or non-numeric score of Proficient or Advanced.
At least one of the pieces of evidence must be from Section One (outlined in more detail below).
Additional evidence (the second and/or third pieces of evidence) may be met through the criteria listed in Section One - either by satisfying different criteria or by satisfying select criteria more than once:"
  • Attainment of an established score on more than one SAT Subject Test (each a different subject or level)

  • Attainment of an established score on more than one AP Exam (each affiliated with a different AP course)

  • Attainment of an established score on more than one IB Exam (each affiliated with a different IB course)

  • Successful completion of more than one concurrent enrollment or postsecondary course

  • Attainment of more than one industry-recognized credential

NOTE: Each of the following may be satisfied only once:

  • Attainment of an established score on the ACT WorkKeys NCRC

  • Acceptance into an accredited other-than-4-year non-profit Institution of Higher Education (IHE) with the ability to enroll in college-level coursework

Section One

  • Attainment of 630 or better on any SAT Subject Test

  • Attainment of Silver Level or better on ACT WorkKeys

  • Attainment of 3 or better on any AP Exam

  • Attainment of 3 or better on any IB Exam

  • Successful completion of any concurrent enrollment or postsecondary course

  • Industry-recognized credentialization

  • Acceptance into accredited, non-proft Institution of Higher Education (IHE) for college-level coursework in an other-than-4yr program


Section Two

  • Attainment of Profcient or Advanced on any Keystone Exam

  • Successful completion of a service-learning project

  • Letter guaranteeing full-time employment or military enlistment

  • Completion of an internship, externship, or cooperative education program

  • Compliance with NCAA Division II academic requirements





Guide to Meeting Statewide Requirements for High School Graduation (Checklist)

Printable Download

Pathways to Graduation Guide_UPDATED June 2022
.pdf
Download PDF • 602KB

Education Law Centers Fact Sheet about Graduation Requirements in Pennsylvania

Printable Download

Statewide-Graduation-Requirements-Fact-sheet
.pdf
Download PDF • 173KB

FCASD Graduation Policy and Guidance


The following items represent our discussion on ACT 158 on a district level, FCASD in particular.


On October 10, 2022, FCASD School Board Directors adopted Policy 217:

Printable Download

https_www.fcasd.edu_site_handlers_filedownload
.ashx_moduleinstanceid=151&dataid=758&FileNa
Download ASHX_MODULEINSTANCEID=151&DATAID=758&FILENA • 158KB

On August 15, 2022 the FCASD Administration revised 217-AR (Administrative Regulation) to include PA Act 158 Compliance which includes the five pathways mentioned in depth above.

Printable Download

FCASD 217-AR Graduation Requirements
.pdf
Download PDF • 14KB

On February 7, 2023 FCASD School Board of Directors Academic Committee meeting an ACT 158. Although the following handout was provided during this meeting, the contents are related and very informative on the district's take on Act 158.

Printable Download

FCASDAct158FAQfc
.pdf
Download PDF • 147KB

When you look at the last two documents, FCASD 217-AR Graduation Requirements and FCASD Act 158 FAQ, it is easy to feel confused on what the administration's message is on Graduation Requirements.


217-AR states:

"All graduation requirements are established by the Board of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Board of School Directors for the Fox Chapel Area School District. Satisfactory completion of the following requirements are needed for graduation:
4. PA Act 158 Compliance through one of the following:
  1. Keystone Proficiency

  2. Keystone Composite

  3. Career and Technical Education Concentrator

  4. Alternative Assessment

  5. Evidence Based"


The ACT 158 FAQ states:

"2. Why did the district decide to have a proficiency requirement for graduation exceeding the Act 158 requirements?
a. The district simply maintained the proficiency requirement ti has had as a graduation requirement for many years. Removing this requirement would lower the standard for graduation that has been in place even before the state proposed a proficiency requirement.
b. Even before Act 158, FCAHS has provided alternate pathways to show proficiency through creative ways to support students and the Senior Proficiency Project. The high school prides itself on a very personal approach to supporting students and families toachieve graduation goals and each student's academic plan.
c. The past and current FCASD graduation requirements are more appropriate for our students given the level of academic expectations and achievement our students have obtained for manyyears.
d. Proficiency, as measured by the state assessments, helps ensure students have met the state academic standards in mathematics, literature, and science, which is our mandate as a public school system."

Adding to the confusion families may feel and students may stress over regarding Graduation Requirements is the lack of all the information 217-AR offers within documents about graduation requirements.


Referring back to The ACT 158 FAQ, it states:

"5. In what ways does the school district communicate the graduation requirements to students and families?
a. The graduation requirements have been communicated to students and parents through orientation meetings, district documents, and personal counseling sessions with students and parents.
b. Information on FCASD graduation requirements is found on the district website in the Course Description Guide and the student 4-Year Planning Worksheet."

The following are screenshots of what we were able to find on the FCASD website regarding Graduation and Graduation Requirements:


Course Description 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 (no change)

4 Year Plan Worksheet

Student/Parent Handbook

High School Profile 2022-2023

On one hand we have the state recognizing the limits created by relying solely on students scoring proficient on the Keystone Exams and the barriers placed in front of students as they recover from learning loss during the pandemic years; while acknowledging the importance of students taking the Keystone Exams for purposes of federal accountability and the failure to do so will affect a Local Education Agency (LEA) and school's participation rate.


On the other hand we have a district saying they provide the five pathways to graduation offered in Act 158 while also indicating they go beyond Act 158. In addition, if students and families are provided information about these pathways verbally or via handouts or email, why are these same documents NOT offered on the website with other graduation related documents? Students and families should not have to look up board policies or administrative regulations to learn about these pathways.


School districts have reexamined their proficiency policies for graduation classes of 2023 and beyond as Act 158 has been better defined. When looking at other school districts in the area, we found their search function is much better than FCASD and one can find the graduation information relatively easily on the website or at least get into a student handbook and have it clearly presented. Since school districts can go beyond Act 158, we were looking at how they addressed graduation requirements. Here is what we found:


Mars - Act 158

Moon - Act1 58

West Allegheny - Act 158

Upper St Clair - Act 158

South Fayette - retest Keystone once before moving on to other pathways

North Allegheny - strongly encourages retest before moving on to other pathways

Mt. Lebanon - retest Keystone once before moving on to other pathways

Pine-Richland - local recommendation to retest twice before moving on to other pathways

Hampton - Act 158

Quaker Valley - Act 158, strongly encourage retesting

Montour - Act 158

North Hills - Act 158


The FCASD School Board of Directors are scheduled to hold an Agenda Meeting on March 6, 2023 at 7pm in the high school LGI room.


The next FCASD School Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for March 13, 2023 at 7pm at Fairview Elementary School.

 

Next Meeting: May 24, 2023 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom.

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