Bills aim to reduce standardized testing

Legislation also creates new graduation plan

If proposed legislation is signed into law this year, it will create the potential to overhaul the state's high school graduation plan and reduce the number of standardized tests students are required to take.

In late March, House Bill 5 passed with a vote of 145 to 2, and it was scheduled for consideration by the Senate Education Committee April 16, after press time.

The bill lowers the number of end-of-course exams high schoolers are required to take to graduate to five from 15 and creates a graduation plan with five different endorsements. State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, authored SB 3, which also called for lowering the number of end-of-course exams to five from 15.

"We are so appreciative of efforts by Patrick to push for the reduction in testing," said Teresa Hull, Cy-Fair ISD associate superintendent for governmental relations, communications and chief of staff. "It's not only our district pushing for that, but also parents. I think they've heard the message loud and clear that a reduction is necessary."

Test reduction

Last April, Texas students began taking the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam—the state's newest standardized testing system, which replaced the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. The new assessment requires high school students to pass 15 end-of-course exams in reading, math, science and social studies in order to graduate—a plan that has received push back from administrators, teachers and parents across the state.

"Testing is important for teachers to know how well students are doing, but the testing machine has gotten out of control with too many tests and too many high stakes," said Linda Bridges, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. "I think parents have woken up and said, 'This isn't helping my kid, and we need to do something about it.'"

In an effort to reduce the number of tests, HB 5 calls for students to take five end-of-course exams to graduate.

"I believe this line-up of tests will ensure schools are testing on fewer days, give teachers more time to teach, schools time to remediate students, and give us an accurate picture of how our students and schools are performing across Texas," Patrick said.

CFISD would ideally prefer the state administer three end-of-course exams—English 2, reading and writing and Algebra 1—but the district is supportive of the proposed reduction to five.

"I don't think districts are saying we shouldn't have standardized testing and accountability," Hull said. "I think the shift happened when we ended up with 15 [end-of-course exams]. When you add into that the SAT, ACT and AP exams, all of those are targets we have in addition to the 15 exams, and it's extreme."

Part of the 2009 legislation that created the STAAR test stipulated that the end-of-course exams would count as 15 percent of a student's final grade. This measure has been left up to districts for the past two years, but HB 5 does not require it.

"Counting the grade on these exams at 15 percent of a student's final grade, one test on one day, is unfair and puts Texas public school graduates at a disadvantage to students graduating from private schools or from out of state," said Stacye Anderson, chairwoman for the CFISD community leadership committee.

Diploma options

The foundation graduation plan offers students five different endorsements from which to choose—arts and humanities, business and industry, multidisciplanary studies, public services and science, technology, engineering and math.

"I think it provides so much flexibility and opportunities for students," Hull said. "It provides an opportunity for students to determine courses or areas in which they have interest and that they feel are relevant to career choices and areas of strength."

Under the foundation diploma, students would be required to take four English language arts credits, three math credits, three science credits, three social studies credits, two language credits, seven elective credits, one fine arts credit and a physical education credit. However, students will be able to enroll in more courses related to their interests through the endorsements.

"I think the counseling that goes along in guiding students on which plan to take will be an important component of it," Bridges said.

For updated information on HB 5 as it progresses through the legislature this month, visit impactnews.com.

By Marie Leonard
Marie came to Community Impact Newspaper in June 2011 after starting her career at a daily newspaper in East Texas. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Cy-Fair edition for nearly 5 years covering Harris County, Cy-Fair ISD, and local development and transportation news. She then moved to The Woodlands edition and covered local politics and development news in the master-planned community before being promoted to managing editor for the South Houston editions in July 2017.