Ever since Texas unveiled its system of high stakes testing, parents and education advocates have been fighting to have it rolled back. Now they're beginning to reap the fruit of their efforts, as earlier this week the Texas House of Representatives voted to not only loosen the graduation requirement for high schoolers, but also reduce the number of high stakes tests each student has to take throughout their academic career.
Only 2 of the House's 147 members voted against a measure that will reduce the number of tests administered to students from 15 to 5. One of the "Nays," Mark Strama of Austin, voted against the bill after his efforts to add an amendment to expand more efforts in guiding students to college failed.
The bill also replaces the current "4Ã4" graduation plan — four years of English, math, science and social studies — with several different paths to a diploma. The aim is to increase flexibility for students, particularly those seeking career training.
The Senate's version of testing and graduation reform could be taken up on Wednesday. It echoes the House bill on graduation plans, and it also reduces the high-stakes assessments to five, though it would require different tests.
Strama felt that by lowering the pressure on students legislators were giving up on something that has been shown to produce results and even went some way towards reducing the minority and low-income achievement gaps. He led a bipartisan coalition that argued that flexibility wasn't a worthy goal compared to the benefits being given up by lowering the bar.
Among Strama's supporters was Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Brach of Dallas who said that creating two paths to graduation – one less challenging than the other – would move the state "in the wrong direction," and would undermine the efforts to get high schoolers ready to take on college-level academic work.
Although Strama's amendment was ultimately defeated, he did succeed in having the testing dates for the five remaining exams moved to the end of the academic year to give teachers more breathing room.
Last year's ninth-graders were the first group of students to take the tougher State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. But parents across the state pushed back as they realized their children would have to take 15 high-stakes exams to graduate and the score would count toward the student's final grade.
The parents have become a political force that made some testing changes inevitable.