Kendrick: Perry should veto testing bill

The Austin Chamber of Commerce encourages Gov. Rick Perry to veto the Legislature’s bill to lower state graduation requirements. We encourage the Legislature to work with the governor to immediately craft a bill which will retain the good parts of House Bill 5 without lowering graduation expectations. Central Texas has tens of thousands of high-wage, high-skill jobs. We have to set up our children to be prepared for those opportunities.

Six years ago, the Texas Legislature overwhelmingly passed House Bill 3 to replace the four TAKS exit tests with a new system which would assess whether students had learned enough academic content in math, science and English to be prepared for post-secondary education and the high-performance workplace.

Employers and Chambers of Commerce statewide applauded. At the time, only 37 percent of Texas graduates met the state definition for college/career readiness. This added financial pressure on unprepared students and their families, since they had to pay to re-learn what they failed to learn in high school. For many, it meant the end of their pursuit of high-performance careers.

Unfortunately, in 2007, House Bill 3 overshot the mark, instituting a complicated set of 15 end-of-course assessments and tying grades, class rank and graduation plan requirements to them. To compound matters, the Texas Education Agency was slow to make decisions. Students, parents, educators and the public wanted much more clarity than TEA was communicating.

So a few days ago, the Texas Legislature again attempted to rectify the situation, this time overwhelmingly passing HB 5. Unfortunately, the 2013 Legislature again overshot. While the bill does reduce the number of graduation tests, it would also actually reduce what high school students must demonstrate to levels below even that of the four TAKS tests.

To make matters worse, House Bill 5 introduces even more complexity than what occurred in 2007.

House Bill 5 creates three new courses of study. All students are placed on the middle course of study upon entering high school. Strangely, students become eligible for scholarships by completing the lowest course of study. They only become eligible for the top 10 percent automatic state university admission, however, under the highest course of study.

Beyond the three courses of study, the Legislature creates five “endorsements” and three “seals” for students who complete courses ranging from specific ability to speak another language to the ill-defined arts and humanities endorsement. Surprisingly, the Legislature puts no money into the budget to help students, parents, counselors and the public understand all this complexity.

In this special session, the Legislature can fix House Bill 5. Here’s how:

• Reduce graduation testing by at least half. Continue to expect students to demonstrate knowledge at least on par with TAKS to graduate. If the Legislature doesn’t scrap end-of-course testing altogether and return to the TAKS, they should at least choose the six tests which cover the same content: algebra, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, and English 11/writing.

• Continue to place students on an internationally competitive course of study. In House Bill 5, this would be either an endorsement or the distinguished course of study. Continue to ensure parents have a major say in the decision made about their child’s graduation plan.

• Ensure each endorsement requires students to learn content in physics and algebra II or statistics (applied or traditional). Manufacturing is built on these skills.

• Continue to keep all incentives like college scholarships, top 10 percent automatic admission and university admission aligned to student completion of that competitive course of study.

• Ensure innovative courses which teach traditional content in a hands-on way first receive approval from Texas’ Education commissioner or the State Board of Education to ensure that, if the family moves, credits transfer with the child.

• Fund the state to train every high school counselor thoroughly on the raft of new options, graduation plans, seals and college eligibility requirements.

This approach reduces testing, reduces mandates, increases flexibility, keeps the system simple but doesn’t lower expectations.

Most importantly, this approach encourages innovation while allowing the chamber to continue to credibly tell taxpayers, parents, international, U.S. and locally-based companies that Central Texas wants our public school graduates to be as prepared as those anywhere in the world.

Kendrick is the 2013 Austin Chamber of Commerce chair for education/talent development

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