Bending to popular outrage over high-stakes standardized testing, Gov. Rick Perry signed school reform legislation Monday that revamps high school graduation requirements and cuts the number of mandatory end-of-course exams from 15 to 5.
Perry had not revealed his decision until he signed it, leaving activists concerned about which way he would go with the legislation, the Austin-American Statesman reported here. But in the end, Perry (R) chose not to ignore a revolt against excessive amounts of high-stakes standardized testing that began more than a year and a half ago in Texas and that has spread to other states.
Then new reform initiative Perry signed into law cuts from 15 to 5 the number of end-of-course exams students must take to graduate from high school, and eliminates the requirement that test scores represent 15 percent of a student’s grade for the course. The new law, among other things, gives students more curriculum flexibility, an apparent nod to teenagers not headed to college.
The Texas testing revolt first got traction when, in January 2012, the state education commissioner at the time, Robert Scott, said the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He also called “the assessment and accountability regime” not only “a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex.” School boards across the state then began passing resolutions demanding that the testing regime be reconsidered, and Texas lawmakers began to publicly call for a reduction in testing.
Here is the summary of the changes Perry signed into law, from the Texas Association of School Boards:
Reduce end-of-course exams from 15 to 5: Algebra I, U.S. history, biology, English I and English II (reading and writing would be combined into one exam for both English I and II).
Replace the current minimum, recommended and distinguished graduation plans with a foundation graduation plan consisting of four English credits; three science, social studies and math credits; two foreign language/computer programming credits; one fine arts credit; one physical education credit; and five elective credits (22 credits).
Eliminate the requirement that end-of-course exams must count toward 15 percent of a student’s final course grade.
Create a distinguished achievement and endorsement graduation plans, including endorsements in STEM, business & industry, public services, multi-disciplinary studies, and arts & humanities.
Require four science credits and algebra II for automatic state college admissions under the top 10 percent rule and state financial aid, and allow all students to be eligible to apply for Texas colleges.
Eliminate cumulative score requirements for end-of-course exams.
Allow districts to administer state-developed Algebra II and English III exams for diagnostic purposes.
Establish an A through F accountability rating system for school districts beginning with the 2016-17 school year, while campuses will remain under the existing exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable system. (HB 5 makes no provision for the delay of accountability ratings for upcoming school years.)
Grant the commissioner authority to join a CTE consortium of states.
Prohibit schools from pulling students out of class for more than 10 percent of class time for test preparation or remediation without parental consent.
Prohibit a school from giving any student credit or a final grade for a course if the student was not in attendance for 90 percent of the days a class was offered.
Require all districts to offer Algebra II.
Allow a district to offer an apprenticeship or training CTE course that leads to an industry-recognized certificate or credential.
Not include language regarding career exploration courses, which address the foundation school program and courses required for automatic admission to state schools, for students in grades 7 and 8.
Require the SBOE to adopt at least six advanced CTE courses, including courses in personal financial literacy and statistics, that satisfy the fourth credit in math.
Require school districts to partner with at least one institution of higher education to offer college prep courses in English and math.
Require TEA to provide to districts information on the advantages of the distinguished and endorsement graduation plans, to include automatic college admission and state grants.
Require all students entering grade 9 to select an endorsement, allow students to change endorsements at any time, and allow students to opt into the foundation plan with parental consent after grade 10.
Allow a student to satisfy a fine arts credit by participating in a community-based program not provided by the school.
Allow students to substitute a course for the second foreign language course if it is clear the student will not be able to complete a second foreign language credit after completing the first.
Prohibits schools from administering more than two benchmark tests per student per subject, not to include college readiness exams such as the SAT or ACT.
Require Texas Education Agency to minimize the effect test administration has on a campus and student instruction.