This piece needs to be clear when it say's "education reform groups," and acknowledge (as was done during the hearing) that members of these "reform groups" are also closely tied to the testing companies that benefit from our testing obsession. Changing the use of high-stakes testing does not mean that students will still be required to complete the curriculum. In fact, there is no research that supports the ways in which Texas place high-stakes testing requirements on students. Rather, experts would argue that it's a misuse of the tests, which are developed for diagnostic purposes only. This is such an old debate that is kept alive by the interests that benefit.
Measure would allow students to pass fewer end-of-course exams to graduate.
By Kate Alexander | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Texas high school students would have to pass fewer new state exams to graduate under a bill to be considered today by the Texas House.
Pushed by state Rep. Rob Eissler, chairman of the Public Education Committee, the bill aims to ease the transition to tougher end-of-course exams. But business and education reform groups say it is a step backward, and they blame school districts for using the state's budget crisis to justify undoing a law they don't like.
Current law sets as a graduation requirement that students take a total of 12 end-of-course exams — in English, math, science and social studies — and earn an average passing score within each subject.
Incoming freshmen would be the first students to face the more stringent requirement, which was passed in 2009.
House Bill 500 would loosen those requirements and allow a student to graduate by passing four exams: algebra and English III as well as one from each of the other two subject areas.
Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said the bill would give students more time to ease into the tougher new exams and simplifies the requirements.
"We're not letting up. I think we're being more direct and more fair," Eissler said.
Business leaders and education reform groups have said the proposed looser requirements would weaken the expectations for graduation, making a high school diploma little more than a piece of paper.
Drew Scheberle, vice president for education at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said HB 500 takes the state in the wrong direction.
"It reduces the amount of information you need to demonstrate knowledge on to earn a diploma. This isn't a transition; it's an absolute lowering," Scheberle said.
And the people who will suffer from the lowering of those standards will be the students, he said .
"If HB 500 passes, there are no repercussions until the kid hits college or the real world academically unprepared," Scheberle added.
More than 125 other House members have signed on to the measure, so chances are good that HB 500 will clear the House.
But its fate is murkier in the Senate.
Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano , has said that she does not want to backslide on education reforms that have been years in the making.
Consequently, Shapiro pushed to include almost $400 million in the Senate version of the budget to pay for textbooks and other instructional materials needed to prepare students for the exams.
The House budget, however, does not have money for those materials and reduces school aid by almost $8 billion in the next two years.
School districts have seized on the state's budget crisis to justify this change, said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.
But he said the districts' real worry is that student performance on the field tests of the end-of-course exams has been troubling.
"They want to take advantage of the financial situation and delay the onslaught of reality," Hammond said.
Eissler denies that this change is related to the state's budget situation.
But state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said the budget crisis has put in jeopardy money for programs and materials that schools need to prepare their students for the exams.
"Their request for getting the Legislature's foot off their necks in the accountability system has some resonance with me," said Strama, a member of the Public Education Committee.
What has been lost in this debate, Strama said, is that the exams are supposed to be used to identify students who are struggling and get them the help to pass the tests.
"The accountability system shouldn't be a Damoclean sword hanging over the heads of schools," Strama said.