By Ben Lane, TSB Staff
Thanks to a bill passed by the Texas Senate and House of Representatives late last week, high school students in Texas soon won’t have to pass as many standardized tests to earn their diploma.
House Bill 5 would reduce the number of standardized tests for high school students from 15 to five. The bill passed unanimously in the Texas Senate and is currently awaiting Governor Rick Perry’s signature. The amount of standardized testing required of Texas’ students had been the source of much consternation from parents, students and teachers. Texas’ previous number of standardized tests, 15, was the highest in the entire country.
Critics of the current standardized testing said that the sheer number of tests required and the importance placed on those tests placed immense pressure on the schools and students alike. Students could not graduate without passing all of the tests and a school’s funding was tied to its level of test results.
Many parents believed this led to many teachers “teaching to the test” only and not providing a comprehensive education to Texas’ students.
“The reduction of standardized testing is just one part of a comprehensive approach to creating more and better opportunities for our students to pursue paths of study that best prepare them for their long-term educational and vocational goals and granting more control to local school districts,” State Senator Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) said in a statement to TownSquareBuzz.com.
“As a member of the Senate Education Committee, one of my top priorities is to provide more choice and opportunity for our students across the state,” he said.
Under the new law, Texas students will only be required to take end-of-course exams in English I and English II, Algebra I, Biology, and US History.
“This legislation (also) simplifies the high school graduation plan by creating a single diploma while enabling students to pursue their interests through multiple diploma endorsement tracks to provide them with the best opportunity to prepare for college and/or the workplace and providing more flexibility for local school districts,” Senator Paxton’s office said in a separate statement to TSB.
Governor Perry is expected to sign the bill into law soon. The students of McKinney’s high schools will be immediately impacted in the 2013-2014 school year.
“The most significant thing that has changed to me is that the end-of-course exams are focusing on courses that best judge the readiness level of students for college and career,” McKinney Superintendent of Schools Dr. JD Kennedy told TSB. “The end is the focus.”
Dr. Kennedy sees multiple benefits from the reduced number of standardized tests.
“If we had kept the current system of each student having to successfully pass 15 exams in their high school career, it would have caused students who are academically challenged the obstacle of having to retake multiple exams,” he said. “We would have seen, in my opinion, a sharp increase in the number of high school dropouts.”
Dr. Kennedy also envisions the new degree plans having a positive impact on today’s students by preparing them for the rapidly changing work environment they’ll face after graduation.
“The new law still measures accountability in the core content areas, but not with an unmanageable number of exams for all students to successfully pass,” he said. “The new law also allows for multiple career and technology pathways for our students to be prepared for success in different career paths or college majors.”
The direct impact this change will have on McKinney’s curriculum is not yet known. “We are still researching the details for implementation and how it will impact current practices,” McKinney ISD Deputy Superintendent Mary Clark told TSB.
According to Paxton’s office, the bill will also “provide for greater clarity in school performance and accountability ratings.”
Parents in McKinney are already celebrating the change in standardized testing. “As parents, we are happy to see that the Legislature is finally looking at putting the emphasis on our students’ critical thinking and not on preparing them to simply pass state tests,” said Rus and Sheila Miller of McKinney.
The Miller family was critical of the amount of standardized testing required of students when TSB spoke to them last month as part of our “MY McKinney” series. The amount of standardized testing given to their children was one of the reasons they chose to send their son Tyler to Imagine Academy, the tuition-free charter school in McKinney.
Rus and Sheila’s daughter Elizabeth spoke of the stress that she felt when it came time to take the STAAR tests in the current system. Sheila told TSB, “They spend a month of their lives stressing out about the tests. They teach for that STAAR test.”
When Governor Perry signs House Bill 5 into law, that stress should quickly be reduced for all of McKinney’s students.