Graduating in Pennsylvania is about to get more complicated. Are schools ready?

Adobe stock photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Until this year, Keystone tests were the centerpiece of Pennsylvania’s high school graduation requirements. Now there are more paths — but some may be inaccessible to less resourced schools, students.


As the school year began in August, Pittsburgh Public Schools [PPS] mailed students’ households notification of a law passed four years earlier that is about to change the way high school graduation is determined statewide.

PPS and other districts statewide are now four months from facing the first big test of Act 158, which introduces four alternative pathways for graduation that students can take instead of gaining a score of proficient on all three Keystone exams. The pathways range from getting passing scores on Advanced Placement [AP] tests to doing a career and technical education [CTE] course. 

Act 158 was passed with the intent to make graduation more accessible and practical for students, but some teachers and education advocates have expressed concerns about the true accessibility of the new requirements, given the state’s continued school funding challenges. 

“The problem is our schools are not properly or adequately funded to enable students to reach standards to perform to proficiency on Keystone exams or the opportunities to meet the requirements for the other pathways,” said Kristina Moon, a senior attorney at the Education Law Center, an advocacy group focused on improving the quality of education across the state. 

The Education Law Center this month won a favorable Commonwealth Court decision in a decade-old lawsuit in which they and several school districts across the state showed “manifest deficiencies between low-wealth districts … and their more affluent counterparts,” as Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer wrote in a 786-page decision. The decision did not impose a new funding scheme, and it may yet be appealed.

“Those students [in underfunded schools] absolutely are at a significant disadvantage without the resources, without the support, without sufficient academic and vocational support to meet the standards” of Act 158, said Moon.

Some who work in school districts around Allegheny County share similar concerns around funding, but expressed confidence that their students will reach the new graduation requirements. 

Carrie Woodard, director of student support services at PPS, said she’s heard concerns, but expects that scenarios that could jeopardize graduation are “uncommon.”

“I oversee the school counselors,” she said, “so I’m hearing their concerns and graduation is right around the corner.”

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