As the legislative session draws to a close in less than two weeks, bills that would reduce state standardized test requirements in Texas are nearing the finish the line.
The House Public Education Committee approved a Senate bill on Tuesday, 9-0, that would continue for two more years a reprieve that allows high school seniors to graduate even if they fail up to two State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
A committee made up of the student’s teacher, principal and parents can give unanimous consent for such students to graduate as long as they pass all of their classes, among other requirements.
Students otherwise must pass five State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness to graduate.
Proponents of Senate Bill 463 see the graduation committees as an opportunity for students who are learning English as a second language or have learning disabilities or testing anxiety to still graduate. But opponents, including the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, see the committees as a way to give students a diploma even if they do subpar work and aren’t ready for college or the workforce.
“The high school diploma should mean that you demonstrated at least something other than seat time over your time in high school,” said Drew Scheberle with the chamber of commerce.
House Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, pushed against the chamber’s stance on the bill, saying the measure is personal for him because his son has a learning disability.
“The Austin community is so damn liberal on everything else that they do. The fact that you’re up here testifying in front of me … just really candidly pisses me off,” Huberty said. “This is a lifeline … for these kids.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, 9,000 students graduated through the graduation committees in the 2015-16 school year, comprising about 3 percent of all graduates. About 4,000 students were rejected to graduate after going through the committees.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee considered House Bill 515 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, that would no longer require fifth- and eighth-grade students to pass the STAAR test to move on to the next grade. The bill also would eliminate social studies STAAR tests in eighth grade and high schools. In high school, students instead would have to take the test required for American citizenship.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, decried the elimination of the tests. Flipping through copies of the STAAR, Bettencourt listed off several historical events he feared students wouldn’t have to learn in-depth.
“I loathe to get rid of this test,” Bettencourt said. “This is a fundamental basis for everybody’s participation in American democracy. No, my answer is no. We shouldn’t do this.”
Supporters of the measure said that the state curriculum still requires teachers to teach those subjects even if they’re not tested.