For juniors in the Warren County School District, Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) are gone.
But don't get too excited; they've been replaced by Keystone Exams.
"The Keystone Exams are end-of-course assessments that are designed to evaluate proficiency in specific content areas," Gary Weber, WCSD director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said. "Students will be tested this year in Algebra I, Biology and Literature. The exams are designed around the new Common Core state standards and higher level application skills."
Students in the district started taking the new tests this past Monday. The current testing window is open until Dec. 14; other testing dates include Jan. 9-23, May 13-24 and July 29-Aug. 2.
Unlike the PSSAs that assessed basic skills reading, writing and math the Keystone Exams, according to Weber, "are now content specific and will test students at the end" of a particular course.
"Teachers are able to assess students knowledge in their content area throughout the school year with diagnostic testing to enhance their ability to provide instruction, improving those areas that students are not proficient in," he added.
The Keystone Exams will also replace the PSSAs as a measure of the No Child Left Behind benchmark Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
The new tests appear to present a couple of significant concerns.
The Associated Press reported that students who took practice Keystone tests last year did not do well: less than 40 percent scored well enough to pass Algebra I and Biology, while about half made the grade in Literature.
"They are difficult exams," Weber said, "but students have the ability to take the exam multiple times in order to achieve proficiency."
Another concern is the time lapse some students will face between instruction and assessment. For example, students who took Algebra I in ninth grade would be two years removed from the content when they take the test. And when they took the course, the instruction would not have been aligned with the Common Core standards.
"We certainly are concerned about student depth of knowledge in areas that they may have studied two or three years ago," Weber said. "We will have to see how we perform before we can develop any type of plan for those students."
He added, "Algebra I and Literature are now graduation requirements at the state level."
According to the Associated Press, this year's eighth-graders will need to pass all three exams by their senior year in 2017 to graduate.
But the consequences if a student fails the exams now isn't clear.
"We do not know specifically what the state requirements will be for students who do not show proficiency on the exams," said Weber. "We will have further information as the year progresses."
The Associated Press reported that starting with the class of 2019, students will have to pass Keystones in Algebra 1, Literature, Biology and Composition. For the class of 2020, students must pass those four plus a test in Civics/Government. As funding allows, more Keystones will be developed in subjects such as Chemistry, Geometry, Algebra 2 and World History.