We are pleased to report that a good bill to curb testing excesses in our schools passed in the Texas House by a vote of 142 to 0 on April 30. HB 2836 by Rep. Bennett Ratliff (R-Coppell) would curtail the number of state achievement tests administered in elementary and middle school and restrict time spent on testing.
HB 2836 eliminates state-mandated writing tests in fourth grade and seventh grade and requires exams to be revised to limit the amount of time required for students to take the tests. Thanks to an amendment by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), districts would be limited to requiring two benchmark tests in preparation for state achievement tests. The bill also pointedly requires that, before a state achievement test can be administered, it “must, on the basis of empirical evidence, be determined to be valid and reliable by an entity that is independent of the agency and of any other entity that developed the assessment instrument.” HB 2836 is now in the Senate.
Another testing-reform bill, HB 5 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), would cut the number of standardized state end-of-course-exams in high school to five from the current 15. It also would retool graduation requirements to give students more paths to high-school completion. However, a Senate committee substitute for HB 5 has not been allowed to come up on the Senate floor thus far, as defenders of the testing status quo continue to fight a rear-guard action at the capitol.
There are some legitimate concerns about HB 5, but these could be addressed on the Senate floor and in conference committee. One concern relates to the potential for channeling disadvantaged and minority students into graduation pathways that would leave them ineligible for college financial aid and for automatic admission to state universities based on class rank. Another concern is the language in HB 5 as passed by the House that would promote a new A-to-F rating system. It’s billed as a report card the public would easily understand, but it would be super-simplistic to boil down everything going on academically at a school to one letter grade. What parents and the public really need to know, and what teachers would like for them to know, is the specifics about students’ performance in specific subjects that lie behind such labels.