Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Social promotion change may doom school accountability bill

If there's anything worth celebrating in HB 3 it's the addition of multiple criteria, which is being criticized here. The call for 2 our of 3 (8 total) end-of-course exit exam requirements is just excessive.


By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry has warned legislative leaders that he may veto a wide-ranging school accountability bill if it scraps the state's longtime rules to curtail social promotion – the practice of automatically passing students regardless of achievement.

The governor has informed the chairs of the House and Senate education committees that he strongly disagrees with their decision to drop the current requirement that students in grades three, five and eight pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills to be promoted to the next grade.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and House Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said Tuesday they are seeking a compromise to gain Perry's support for their legislation. But they still want to drop the testing mandate.

A spokeswoman for the governor said Perry believes any change to the requirement – originally championed by George W. Bush when he was governor – would weaken academic standards in the schools.

"We need to maintain strong accountability standards in our schools and not reverse course on social promotion," said Allison Castle, the governor's press secretary.

School superintendents across the state, including Dallas' Michael Hinojosa, have urged lawmakers to drop the state requirement and allow local officials to determine their own criteria for promoting students. Separate bills passed by the House and Senate would do just that; local promotion standards would be based on test scores, course grades and teacher recommendations.

"That has been one of the major complaints about the TAKS test, that it is a one-day minimum skills test that has such serious consequences," Eissler said. "We're trying to give kids another pathway."

Shapiro agreed there is a problem when a student can do grade-level work in all his classes but still be held back in the same grade because of a poor score on the TAKS test.

"If a child is doing better in class, he shouldn't be held back solely because of test scores," she said.

Studies indicate that the test requirement slightly raised the number of students retained in grades three, five and eight, but many who failed the TAKS were still promoted under an exception that allows a student to move up if his teacher, principal and parents agree.

While Shapiro and Eissler agree on the promotion requirements, they disagree on another major part of the school bill – how many tests high school students should pass to earn a diploma.

Shapiro and the Senate voted to require that students pass two of three end-of-course tests in each major subject area – English, math, science and social studies. Eissler and the House voted to require passage of just two of the 12 end-of-course tests – the English III and Algebra II exams.

They'll have to compromise on such differences in the next few days for the bill to become law.

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