Project Based Assessments


Pennsylvania requires students to take and pass Keystone exams in three subject areas (Algebra 1, Biology, and Literature) in order to graduate. A student who passes an exam is said to be “Proficient” or “Advanced” in the subject. Students who do not pass the exam (those who receive a score of “Below Basic” or “Basic”) are given supplementary instruction prior to retaking the test. If a student is still unable to reach proficiency on an exam after supplemental instruction, the student may be allowed to complete a Project Based Assessment.

Project Based Assessments (PBAs) are aligned with Keystone exam modules. There are two modules in each of the exams. A student must complete a project for each module of an exam on which the student was not Proficient or Advanced. A student may choose to retake a Keystone exam while working on a PBA. If the student passes the exam while working on a project, project work ends.

PBAs are typically framed around a real life scenario. Each project is broken into manageable tasks. A task may have one or more activities within it. Students are given as much time as necessary to successfully complete each activity. Projects were designed to be completed in 5-7 hours; however field-testing proved that the average time to complete a project is 8-10 hours.

A tutor will provide remediation on the subject as necessary, utilizing any accommodations and Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) as dictated by a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. The tutor also will assess work at specified checkpoints. If the tutor deems the work unsatisfactory, the tutor will provide appropriate remediation and then allow the student to redo and resubmit the activity.

A state panel composed of teachers, principals, and curriculum specialists scores each project based on a rubric. Projects are scored either as Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. A Satisfactory is recorded in the student’s record as Proficient for state graduation purposes. If a project is deemed Unsatisfactory, the project will be returned to the tutor who will direct the student to redo the Unsatisfactory part.

Projects cannot be completed at home; they must be completed at school under supervision. No conversation with other students or adults is allowed while the student is working on a project.

Who May Complete a PBA?

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, PBAs are only available for students who:

  • Have not demonstrated proficiency on a Keystone Exam after two attempts (except for some students with IEPs who can begin a PBA after one failed attempt);
  • Have taken the course;
  • Have met the attendance requirements of the school district, vocational/technical school, or charter school; and
  • Have participated in a satisfactory manner in supplemental instructional services (except for students graduating prior to 2019).

Students with IEPs who have not completed a course in a particular subject may also be allowed to begin a PBA after attempting the Keystone exam.

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Last Updated: June 16, 2020

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