Rapp Re-Schools Education Secretary on Futility and Fiscal Irresponsibility of Graduation Testing
Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Forest/McKean) again raised several concerns regarding the governor’s proposed implementation of a new $210 million system of high school Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs) during a joint House Republican Education and Policy committee hearing last Wednesday featuring testimony presented by State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak.
Broadcast to a statewide audience on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Rapp opened her blunt, straightforward questioning of Zahorchak by once again stressing that:  
“I agree with you that Pennsylvania’s public school system is failing to teach far too many students how to read. Rather than providing the solution, the graduation competency test is a method of punishing our children for an educational system that has repeatedly failed them.”
If adopted, all Pennsylvania high school students would be required to pass a GCA test demonstrating their proficiency in English, math, science and social studies in order to receive their diplomas.   At a time when Pennsylvania is already facing a $3 billion deficit, the governor’s proposed 2009-10 budget proposal includes more than $23 million to continue the development of these unnecessary tests and certain support services.    
Additional studies show that 96 percent of the implementation costs will be borne by local school districts. Zahorchak also revealed during Wednesday’s hearing that this new system would ultimately cost Pennsylvania approximately $210 million over the next seven years before the first test is even given.
Rapp reinforced her initial comments by citing an independent Feb. 25, 2009 Penn State College of Education survey which revealed that only 18 of Pennsylvania’s 501 public school districts, or less than 3 percent of total statewide enrollment, appropriately measure whether their students can read and do math at the l1th grade level.
“Mr. Secretary, what this research clearly shows is that we should be focusing on making sure that ‘Johnny Knows How to Read’ at a much earlier age,” said Rapp. “No matter how much taxpayer money is thrown at the educational system, too many students are continuing to fall through the cracks.”  
Rapp and other participating lawmakers also noted that the Rendell administration’s push for GCAs contradicts current law. Act 61 of 2008 prohibits the establishment of high school graduation requirements during the 2008-09 fiscal year. 
“Adapting and modifying student performance so they can pass yet another unnecessary assessment exam before they can graduate, should never ever replace fundamental reading instruction and remediation during the elementary years where there is a much greater chance to make a meaningful difference,” said Rapp.   “Mr. Secretary, again why are we not spending more time making sure our students know how to read at an earlier age, rather than punishing them at the end of their academic careers for an educational system that continues to fail them?”
Despite this legislative moratorium, the governor is pushing ahead with GCAs and his administration issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) last August seeking a company to begin development of the GCA exam. Zahorchak also confirmed that a contract could soon be awarded. Similar legislation has been introduced this session in both the House and Senate to extend the moratorium as well as to prohibit any funds from being used for this purpose.
Rep. Kathy Rapp
65th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(814) 723-5203
(717) 787-1367
Contact: Ty McCausling
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 772-9979