Austin ISD: HB5 lowers number of required standardized tests for graduation

Austin ISD officials are reaching out to some parents to explain what effect the recent passage of House Bill 5 might have on their children's education, including which State Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, subjects the state will require students to pass to graduate.

The governor signed HB5 on June 10, which means Texas students now need to pass five end-of-course exams instead of 15 to meet state graduation requirements. English I, English II, Algebra I, U.S. history and biology EOCs are required, while the state will no longer require students to pass STAAR chemistry, physics, geometry, world history, world geography, Algebra II and English II EOC tests to graduate, AISD Chief Performance Officer Bill Caritj said.

"We're trying to make this a smooth transition, knowing that some kids are already enrolled in classes that they may not need to be in," he said.

If a student failed an EOC exam in 2011-12 or 2012-13 that is still required under HB5, "students are encouraged to participate at each retesting opportunity," according to AISD.

AISD's Office of High Schools is contacting students who had planned on going to summer school because they failed one of the tests that is no longer required to tell them if they do not have to attend summer school or retake the EOC exam, Caritj said.

Retests will be available in July for courses required for graduation under HB5.

Carolyn Hanschen, director of campus and district accountability, explained the end-of-course exams eliminated by HB5 will not be offered starting in July.

"Those tests have basically been given for the last time, and so there's no need for students to take an EOC prep course [for those subjects] because those tests will not be available."

Assistant Superintendent of Academics Suzanne Burke said the district will continue to offer EOC preparatory camps June 11–27 for the courses students do have to pass, and the district also offers summer school for students who need to pass courses required for graduation.

Caritj said the district's curriculum will continue to emphasize the subjects that are no longer required, and HB5's impact on what STAAR passing rates are required will not have a major impact on how the district prepares students.

"We feel as strongly today as we ever did about our other courses, and many of them are still graduation requirements," Caritj said. "The fact that some of the exams are no longer required [by the state] doesn't change the fact that students still have to meet all the [district] graduation requirements."

HB5 also eliminated the requirement that districts include the EOC results as 15 percent of course grades.

AISD's results on STAAR exams improved in Algebra I, English I Reading, English I Writing and biology, and the district performed well compared with the rest of the state and other urban districts, he said. However, he noted the 2016 standards are much more rigorous, and the district will have to continue working hard to meet them.

"We know that's the real target, and we're not going to be satisfied until we've got everyone passing those tests," he said.

Caritj pointed to the district's focus on providing training for teachers, as well as high-dosage tutoring for students and interventions to help students get back on track.

Burke said the district's focus on educating "the whole child" by incorporating fine arts, athletics and social and emotional learning programs has improved academic achievement.

"It is not our intention to teach to the test," she said, adding: "While we do make adjustments of course to prepare our kids as best we can for state assessments and we're absolutely attentive to that, we are also attentive to college- and career-readiness and ensuring the high levels of success for each and every one of our students."