Texas House votes to reduce high-stakes testing

Mar 27, 2013 by

studentabuseThe Texas House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to loosen high school graduation requirements and significantly reduce high-stakes testing after a daylong debate in which legislators grappled with how academic rigor and flexibility can co-exist.

House Bill 5 won preliminary passage on a 145-2 vote. State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who unsuccessfully pushed an amendment aimed at steering more students toward college, and state Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, were the only nays.

The legislation reduces from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams needed for graduation from high school and amounts to an about-face for Texas, which has been at the forefront of the standardized testing movement. The required tests would be algebra, biology, U.S. history and 10th-grade reading and writing.

The bill also replaces the current “4×4” graduation plan — four years of English, math, science and social studies — with several different paths to a diploma. The aim is to increase flexibility for students, particularly those seeking career training.

The Senate’s version of testing and graduation reform could be taken up on Wednesday. It echoes the House bill on graduation plans, and it also reduces the high-stakes assessments to five, though it would require different tests.

Giving students more options to craft a graduation plan relevant to their goals should reduce the number of dropouts, improve career readiness and foster student success, said House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, who is carrying House Bill 5.

A bipartisan coalition of members led by Strama argued that the state would be backing away from the rigorous requirements that have produced results, particularly among low-income and minority students, in the name of giving students flexibility.

“Every conversation I’ve had for months has revolved and swirled around this issue,” Aycock said.

Under current law, the 4×4 curriculum is the default graduation plan for all students unless they opt for a minimum plan requiring fewer credits for graduation that doesn’t qualify the student for a four-year college.

Strama put forth an amendment that would make the default plan under House Bill 5 the “distinguished diploma,” which is close to the 4×4 plan and a prerequisite to qualify for automatic college admission under the state’s top 10-percent law.

The distinguished diploma requires four years of science and math, including Algebra 2, rather than the three years called for in the “foundation diploma.” Algebra 2 is seen by many educators as a key indicator of whether a student is ready for college.

“We should assume all of them want a college prep curriculum and are capable of it, and let them decide if they don’t,” Strama said.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, signed on to Strama’s amendment and said he was concerned that looser requirements might be sending the state in the “slightly wrong direction,” away from ensuring students are prepared for the 21st century economy.

Forcing students to choose between an upper and lower track would stigmatize the foundation diploma as the lesser option when that isn’t the intention, said Aycock and his allies.

“It would have all these students have to admit at the very beginning of school: ‘I can’t hack this. I have to drop down to a lower level in order to get through high school,’” state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said of Strama’s amendment.

After nearly 90 minutes of debate, Strama’s amendment was set aside on a 97-50 vote.

Strama was successful in getting the testing date for the end-of-course exams moved near the end of school terms so that schools have more time to teach students the material.

Last year’s ninth-graders were the first group of students to take the tougher State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. But parents across the state pushed back as they realized their children would have to take 15 high-stakes exams to graduate and the score would count toward the student’s final grade.

The parents have become a political force that made some testing changes inevitable.

via Texas House votes to reduce high-stakes testing, change… | www.statesman.com.

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