Texas Relaxes Graduation Testing Requirements, Boosts Charter Schools

Late Sunday the Texas House and Senate approved a bill to cut back on the amount of standardized tests that students are required to pass in order to graduate in the state. They also voted to increase the number of charter schools that are allowed to operate from 215 to 309 by September 2019.

WFFA's Will Weissert reports that the Senate passed the bill without dissenters in a 31-0 vote. Even so, there are some skeptics who believe it might be misguided to "water down" high academic standards, and worry that it might leave students at a disadvantage when trying to find jobs.

Critics, including many higher education leaders, say the proposals will essentially lower the bar for many students by enabling them to graduate without really challenging themselves. They point to studies that show a correlation between being able to pass Algebra II and succeeding in college and beyond — and say that as many young people as possible should take it.

Previously, students were expected to pass 15 state-mandated tests. Students will now only have to complete one third of the previous requirement including Algebra I, Biology, US History, and English I and II. Reading and writing, which used to be separate tests, will now be combined. Algebra II and English III will eventually be produced, but will be optional and will not count towards the state accountability scale.

The proposal will replaced a 2007 law that required students meet curriculum standards that included four years of math, science, english and social studies. There will now be two different types of diplomas available for students to earn. The "foundation" diploma requires fewer core classes and allows students to incorporate more career-training electives into their curriculum.

The other is a "distinguished" diploma for students that complete Algebra II and other upper level math and science courses. Students who receive this diploma are qualified for automatic admission to any Texas state university. Those who do not complete the distinguished degree are not granted automatic admission.

All students must start out on the path to a distinguished diploma, but after the first two years are able to switch to a foundation diploma with parental permission.

The new curriculum is designed to give more flexibility to students who would like to better prepare for high-paying jobs that do not require a college degree.

"What we set out to do in January was to reform public education in this state," said Sen. Dan Patrick, a tea party Republican from Houston who chairs the Senate Education Committee. "We are maintaining rigor and accountability."

One of Patrick's goals was to completely erase the charter cap and to create a board to approve the flood of charter applications that would be expected to come in at that point. The final bill doesn't hit that goal, but instead allows for gradual growth. It will allow for parents and students to have more school choice, which is in high demand in Texas.

Sunday's approvals free up extra space, something advocates say is vital since around 100,000 students from across the state are on waitlists for charters that don't have the space to accommodate them. The charter bill passed easily in the Senate but met more opposition in the House, which voted to approve it 105-41.

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