Texas Graduation Standards At Risk

Jim Windham – The current Texas legislative session is largely about the budget crisis, and the media reports have particularly sensationalized the potential cuts in public education funding, but if one looks more closely, there is a larger threat in public education policy, one that would undermine much of the progress we have made in standards and accountability.

Before getting into the specifics of the threats to accountability, I will briefly retrace why the recent Texas public education reforms were necessary and why the Legislature spent so much time and effort crafting them (not to mention how much money the state has already spent preparing for the reforms to take effect).

Prior to the adoption of education reforms like the landmark HB 3 in 2009, we needed more rigorous high school curriculum with serious and focused assessment and accountability. Among many other provisions, these reforms called for the end of the dreaded TAKS exit exam in high school to be replaced with end-of-course exams in the 12 core high school subjects.

This was a big step forward because these exams could be used as finals, total testing time could be reduced by the elimination of TAKS, and instruction could be devoted entirely to the curriculum instead of teaching to an unrelated test. Educators, parents, and students would take these courses and exams seriously because the exams would count as 15% of course grades.

All of this means that for the first time, after HB 3 is fully implemented, postsecondary readiness, meaning college and 21st century workplace readiness, would be the organizing principle of the Texas school accountability system, the bottom line of which is that when a student walks across the stage and receives a Texas high school diploma it will mean that he or she is prepared for college and the 21st century workplace without the need for remediation. What this new organizing principle further means is that we have adopted a postsecondary ramp, with benchmarks for achievement at every grade level and vertically aligned assessments that tell us where every child is on that ramp leading to the postsecondary readiness standard as the exit.

We have been on a journey leading to this standard and these expectations for our students and our educators for over a decade. With the adoption of HB 3 in 2009, we are there. These reforms increased focus on quality instruction, eliminated time spent teaching to an unrelated test, and the end-of-course exams tests mattered in students’ grades. All of this gave great hope to getting students more prepared for college or a meaningful career. This was a very big deal, a “stop the presses” moment in reform. In fact, Achieve, Inc., a national consortium of business and education leaders, named Texas as the only state that met all of its criteria for college and career readiness graduation standards.

Now, a series of proposals in the current session threaten to roll back all of that progress and return to the pre-HB 3 days, to delay implementation of these provisions, to revisit the old HB 3 debates, the old TAKS complaints, in short, to refight the last war.

If these proposals become law:

* End-of-course high school exams will not count as part of the student’s grade in the course.

* Graduation standards will be lowered so that students will be able to fail miserably as many as eight of the twelve end of course exams and still receive a high school diploma. This means a student would have no motivation whatsoever to take seriously English I or II, Geometry, two of the science exams, and two of the social studies exams. As far as the critical matter of math and science, students won’t have any motivation to take geometry or chemistry and physics seriously.

* Yet another proposal calls for a moratorium on end-of-course-exams and suggests taking the savings and giving those funds to teachers. Talk about shortchanging students’ education to pay adults more money!

All of the promise of our existing reforms to prepare our students for the future is wiped away by this series of proposals. If they pass, we risk failing our students just as we are on the brink of great promise.

Those who would like to do away with testing or delay implementing end-of-course exams are focusing on a hollow argument about costs. And in the current budget environment, we expected that. But if reliability of funding for instructional and curriculum materials is the issue here, we should have that discussion, and you will find that our organization, TIER and its allies, fully support the necessary funding for the implementation of HB 3 on schedule, including the end of course exams, and I cannot conceive of legislators leaving town in June without fully funding the textbooks and other instructional materials our students need to begin the next school year.

You will also find that we aggressively support the maintenance of funding that provides much-needed intervention to support remedial initiatives in the schools for those students who need it. But we shouldn’t allow the budget crunch to be a red herring in delaying the full implementation of these enhanced standards and altering the ultimate mission of public education. We shouldn’t fight the last war and we shouldn’t reopen the provisions of the legislation that has put Texas back at the top in our expectations for our educators and our kids.

For more information on this issue and how you can help, go to www.texaseducationreform.org.

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April 5th, 2011

Staff Reporter EducationNews.org

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