3/29/2011 3:38 PM
Note: This blog post has been updated to include comments from Chairman Rob Eissler in response to criticism of his HB 500
A group of education and business policy experts held a press conference today to urge that the Legislature forge ahead with full implementation of the end-of-course exams passed in the 2009 legislative session. Delaying it, as would some legislation filed this session, would amount to lowering the state’s graduation standards, said members of the coalition, which included the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), the Governor’s Business Council, and the Texas Association of Business, were on hand.
Those end-of-course exams, intended at the time to be phased in starting this coming school year, are meant to replaces the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) Test.
Several bills would delay the full implementation of the end-of-course exam system, including HB 500 from House Education Chairman Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands), according to the coalition. HB 500 bill would require students to pass a mere four out of 12 end-of-course exams in order to graduate, the coalition members lamented. Students would have to pass English III, Algebra II, one social studies course and one science. Each student could – theoretically, anyway – fail everything else.
Eissler, of course, does not see it that way. He told LSR that current law already requires only that students pass four of the 12 exams. What his bill would strike, he said, is simply the requirement that the end-of-course exams be worth 15 percent of a student's final grade. The state already holds those school districts accountable for student performance on those exams, he said. The bill simply gives "local control" to the school districts to determine how much they want to make the test worth.
Currently there is no minimum amount in his bill. It can be less than 15 or more than 15. But however much it is worth, Eissler emphasized, "they still have to pass the course."
As of March 31, Eissler had gathered the signatures of more than 100 House members to sign on as co-authors.
Hammond argued that a student who fails the end-of-course tests for English I and English II is unlikely to pass the English III exam. The bill comes with the backdrop of outcries from school administrators across the state that they simply do not have the funds, in the face of pending budget cuts, to pay for the instructional materials and other overhead costs necessary to make the transition from TAKS to the end-of-course tests.
“If these proposals become law, graduation standards would be dramatically lowered,” said TIER Chairman Jim Windham. “Students would be able to fail as many as eight of the key course exams and still get the recommended diploma, which is supposed to prepare students for postsecondary education. Students would have no motivation to take seriously English I or II, Geometry, two of the science exams, and two of the social studies exams. These proposals fail our students and rob Texas of the well-rounded graduates the modern workplace demands.”
The group applauded Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) and her subcommittee for their recommendation that the state spend an additional $5.6 billion on public education in the next biennium, including moneys to pay for the textbooks, training, and human resources necessary to implement the end-of-course exams and other readiness standards embodied in HB 3 from 2009. On March 24 the Senate Finance Committee adopted that recommendation. The House budget currently does not fund the costs of implementing those new standards.
Also on hand at the press conference was Sandy Kress, a longtime player in Texas’ education policy, including as a Perry 2007 appointee to chair the Commission for a College Ready Texas and on the Governor’s Competitiveness Council. “Delaying the implementation of education reform creates a public school system with no accountability at all,” Kress said. “That’s a grave disservice to our students and our state.” Kress told LSR that the TAKS test would still be phased out even if the teeth were taken out of the end-of-course exams.