Posted on October 27, 2022
Categories: college & career, external reports, high school graduation, Keystones, system trends

The Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) is currently a partnership between Research for Action and the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Research and Evaluation. Launched in August 2014, PERC conducts research that is community-informed, equity-focused, and based on a critical analysis of District needs. PERC’s focus for 2021-2024 is on providing evidence to support the District’s goal for all students to graduate prepared for college or careers.

The report below is a PERC publication, originally posted here, and it examines Pennsylvania’s new graduation requirements (Act 158), including the results of an analysis using historical District data to explore potential impacts for school communities. 

Beginning with the class of 2023, Pennsylvania high school students will need to demonstrate career or postsecondary preparedness to meet statewide graduation requirements and receive a diploma. The new graduation requirements, enacted in 2018 by Pennsylvania’s Act 158, are intended to codify high standards for all students and improve student achievement across Pennsylvania while also taking into account student strengths, interests, and career goals.

As profiled in PERC’s recent related brief, Act 158 outlines five pathways to meeting this requirement, two of which—the Keystone proficiency and Keystones composite pathways—require demonstrating proficiency on Pennsylvania’s end-of-course subject exams for Literature, Algebra, and Biology. For students that cannot meet Keystone requirements, the policy articulates “alternative pathways” to graduation, e.g., obtaining an industry-based competency certification, successful completion of a service-learning project, or completion of an internship or cooperative education program, among others.

This report examines historical performance on Keystone exams to explore the potential impact of the policy on students in the School District of Philadelphia’s high schools. Key findings include:

  • Just over one-third of students in the historical sample achieved Keystone scores sufficient to pass the Keystone graduation pathways under the new policy.
  • An additional 10% of students almost met graduation requirements through Keystone pathways, needing to earn a Basic on only one additional exam to meet the Keystone requirements to graduate, had they been in place.
  • For future cohorts of District students, we estimate that over half will need targeted support to dramatically improve their Keystones performance or may need to pursue alternative pathways to graduate.
  • The share of students who would have met or almost met Keystone pathways varied based on race/ethnicity, economically disadvantaged status, and other student characteristics, reflecting local, state, and nationwide historical inequities in standardized tests.
  • There are 49 schools where less than 25% of students would have either met or almost met the requirements for graduation through the Keystone pathways.

Additional Resources