By Ericka Mellon | December 12, 2012 | Updated: December 12, 2012 11:48pmSome of the strongest advocates for high-stakes testing, Texas business leaders now want to cut the number of exams students must pass to finish high school, the latest attempt to ease tougher graduation requirements that went into effect last year.
The number of high-stakes tests would fall from 15 to as few as six under the business groups' plan, and school districts would not have to count the exam scores as part of students' course grades.
Bill Hammond, who leads the Texas Association of Business, on Wednesday acknowledged that the law mandating the increased testing "quite honestly overdid it a little bit."
His comments echo concerns that educators and parents have been taking to state lawmakers in recent months. Scores on the first round of tests last spring showed thousands of students were below grade level and were at risk of not graduating.
The business groups' plan likely will serve as a conversation starter for state lawmakers when they reconvene in January. Education Commissioner Michael Williams, at the urging at Gov. Rick Perry, already has suspended the law requiring exam scores to count in students' grades.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of debate on all these topics before any decision is reached," said Debbie Ratcliffe, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.
Texas law now requires high school students to earn a cumulative passing score on 11 to 15 end-of-course exams in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. The state's testing requirements are among the strictest, if not the strictest, in the nation, according to the Education Commission of the States, a Denver nonprofit that tracks policies.
"I understand that kids have to be evaluated; however, the many high-stakes tests that our children have to take, it's a little bit overwhelming," said Vincent Sanders, a member of the advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education who has two children in Houston schools.
The business groups want to eliminate the world history and world geography exams and require students to pass no more than 10 exams to graduate. In some cases, students would have to pass as few as six.
"Some can view it (as a retreat), but I think it's a modification that gets us where we need to be," Hammond said, adding that the plan still holds schools accountable for graduating students ready for post-secondary education. Hammond was joined by leaders of the Texas Institute for Education Reform and the Texas Business Leadership Council at a news conference in Austin.
Texas' prior testing system mandated 10 exams in high school but students had to pass only four to graduate. H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief district, said he would like to see the high-stakes exams reduced to between three and five.
"I'm glad they're moving closer to what the public education community feels is reasonable and meaningful for students," Chambers said, "but I don't believe we're there yet."
Houston's superintendent, Terry Grier, said he agreed with cutting the number of mandatory state tests but said he fears Texas may lower the standards too much.
"Maybe we've taken three or four steps too far in testing, but it doesn't mean we need to stop testing," said Grier.
The business groups also proposed creating different diploma options, which would allow students to get "endorsements" in areas such as fine arts, science and industry. Some options would require less testing. Grier said he worried some students would be pushed unfairly toward the easier diploma.
"The bigotry of low expectations bothers me," Grier said. "What children are we going to end up having a vocational diploma, and who's going to decide that?"