Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Texas Senate, House panels take up bills to improve student testing

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Texas high school students would have to pass at least eight out of 12 end-of-course exams to get a diploma, and elementary school students would no longer have to pass the state achievement test in certain grades to be promoted under school improvement legislation taken up Tuesday by House and Senate committees.

The 120-page bill would take the pressure off elementary and middle schools to focus on preparation for the TAKS test by allowing school districts to devise their own promotion standards – using TAKS results, course grades and teacher recommendations. No longer would students in grades 3, 5 and 8 have to pass the test to be promoted.

But high-stakes testing would continue in high school, where students would have to pass at least two of the three end-of-course exams now being developed in each of four core subject areas – English, math, science and social studies. Students not meeting the requirement would not receive a diploma.

Currently, students must pass the TAKS exit-level exam and complete required course credits to earn a diploma.

"This new system looks beyond a single test and looks at multiple indicators of student achievement," said House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, referring to the changes in elementary and middle schools. "It will reduce the pressure on school districts because students' promotions will be based on multiple measures."

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said that after years of the state setting promotion standards for schools, it is time to give that responsibility to local school officials.

"We believe we need to give back to local school districts the ability to decide how to do this," she said.

The twin measures by Shapiro and Eissler, based on meetings around the state last year, also would eliminate the current performance ratings for schools and campuses – such as "academically acceptable" and "unacceptable." Schools would still be evaluated annually based on students' test scores, dropout rates and financial integrity – but they would receive one of three ratings from good to bad: accredited, accredited-warned and accredited-probation. Schools doing poorly for multiple years would lose their accreditation – and state funding.

Shapiro pointed out another major difference in the proposed accountability system – schools and districts would be rated based on achievement growth and a rolling three-year average for test scores, rather than on a single year of testing.

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