Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed legislation making it easier for high school seniors, who will now only have to pass three freshman-level tests, to graduate in the state.
The new law reduces the number of end-of-year exams that seniors in the state must pass to graduate from five to three.
Students will still need to receive a passing average in all of their core classes. In the event that they do not pass one or two of the required exams, a testing waiver must be obtained from a special graduation committee.
"While it is critical that the state appropriately holds public schools and districts accountable for delivering the best possible education, we must protect Texas students from being penalized as a result of evolving test standards," Abbott said in announcing his signing of the measure. "Senate Bill 149 protects students from undue penalization, and guarantees that students who meet specified requirements are able to graduate," he said.
Critics feel that the new law will cause a decrease in student performance. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business and a former House member, said that going forward with the new law would "effectively eliminate any substantive requirement for juniors and seniors to prove they are college- or career-ready when they graduate."
Sponsors of the bill maintain that it is geared toward this year's graduating students, 28,000 of whom are in danger of not graduating due to not passing at least one of the STAAR end-of-year exams. That works out to 10% of the class of 2015 across the state.
Supporters went on to say that it is harmful to deny a diploma to students who had met all the graduation requirements aside from passing one or two tests, and that doing so will cause the students difficulty in terms of finding a job or joining the military, writes Terrence Stutz for The Dallas Morning News.
The three exams which will remain are the ones given during a students' freshman year – Algebra I, English I, and Biology. The tests in Algebra I and Biology only require a student to receive a grade of 37% to pass.
Critics feel that the legislation will end with similar results to what happened with testing the fifth and eighth grades in the state, where students can become exempt from needing to pass the STAAR exam to move on to the next grade level. Students had been required to pass the exam to move on in an effort to end social promotion. However, most of the students who fail are still approved to move on by a committee made especially for each student and consisting of the principal, teacher, and one of the child's parents.
Similar committees would be made for high school seniors who do not pass the end-of-year exams under the new legislation, reports Kiah Collier for The Austin American-Statesman.
"The creation of these review committees will effectively reinstate social promotion. It also reduces the value of the diploma for all those who worked hard in school and proved their skills on these tests," Hammond said.
Senate Bill 149 becomes effective immediately, meaning this year's seniors will benefit from the decision.