Gov. Rick Perry today formally signed HB 5 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), the bill to reduce the number of required end-of-course STAAR tests to five from 15. The bill also creates new options for meeting graduation requirements, with emphasis on career interests.
Gov. Perry rejected calls for a veto of HB 5 from some in the business community and the testing industry who claimed the bill would lower academic standards. Perry said at today’s bill-signing ceremony that the legislation “will ensure the rigor in the classroom and our curriculum will be maintained.” Perry insisted that under this bill “Texas refuses to dilute our academic standards.”From Texas AFT’s standpoint, HB 5 is a good bill that could have been better. It does not fundamentally alter the high-stakes nature of achievement testing under the Texas accountability system for public schools. The main cause of the excessive emphasis on state achievement-test results is the system of punitive sanctions that apply to schools with as few as two years of test scores below state standards. That test-driven system of sanctions is not changed appreciably by HB 5.
Unfortunately, HB 5 omits language Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) had inserted in the Senate version that would have barred uses of state achievement tests for purposes for which they are not demonstrably valid and reliable. This provision could have been a bulwark against the continued misuse of test results for punitive, high-stakes ratings of school districts, schools, students, and educators.
HB 5 does a better job on the issue of excessive testing and time devoted to testing in high school. It limits state end-of-course tests to Algebra I, Biology, English I, English II, and U.S. History. The English I and English II tests will assess both reading and writing. Districts will have the option of administering post-secondary readiness tests for diagnostic purposes in Algebra II and English III, but passing these exams will not be required for graduation, and the exams will not count in state accountability ratings.
The bill removes the requirement that a student’s performance on end-of-course exams must count for 15 percent of the student’s final grade in each course tested. In addition, under an amendment to HB 5 by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), no more than two district-required benchmark tests can be administered to prepare a student for the corresponding state achievement test.
The state accountability system under HB 5 will use a new A-to-F grading system for school districts but will retain the existing ratings of exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable, and academically unacceptable for campuses. HB 5 somewhat counterbalances the simplistic use of the A-to-F labels for districts by adding new accountability ratings for community and student engagement and for financial performance. Ratings in these two new categories will be reported alongside academic ratings, and the academic ratings must use indicators based on other factors in addition to standardized state assessments. However, the extent of reliance on standardized state tests still is left up to the commissioner of education, and Commissioner Michael Williams already has come out with a new set of academic-performance measures that rely chiefly on state test scores to gauge proficiency, growth, college and career readiness, and the closing of achievement gaps.
HB 5 eliminates the Minimum Recommended, and Advanced High School graduation programs, creating a new Foundation High School Program in their place. The bill creates endorsements on a student’s diploma for completing certain courses reflecting career interests: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies. The bill requires students to identify an endorsement they intend to pursue when they start ninth grade. Four years of math are required to qualify for automatic admission to state universities. A student could choose to graduate under the 22-credit Foundation plan, without any additional work to earn an endorsement, after full notice of the consequences and with parental approval. The 22-credit plan includes four years of English, three of math, three of science, three of social studies, two of foreign language one of fine arts, one of physical education, and five electives. All graduating students would be eligible for state college financial aid.
Upcoming Hotline messages will explore additional features of this 109-page bill. Suffice it to say for now that Commissioner Williams and the staff at the Texas Education Agency will have their hands full for some while implementing the many changes in policy required by HB 5.