Students in elementary and middle school would get a little testing relief under a House bill that passed overwhelmingly on a preliminary vote Monday.
Amid a backlash against state-mandated testing, the legislation eliminates writing exams in fourth and seventh grades.
It also aims to alleviate some of the stress- inducing elements of the remaining exams by trimming the length of the tests to a keep them within two hours in the earliest grades and three hours for sixth-grade and up.
“We’ve taken the time pressure off so your third grader is not going to be spending four hours on the test. And if they are a struggling learner, we don’t have the time pressure of the countdown clock making them even higher stress tests,” said state Rep. Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell, who authored House Bill 2836.
The bill passed on a voice vote Monday with no vocal opposition during the floor discussion. It still needs final approval in the House before heading to the Senate, which has also been receptive to changes to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
Testing concerns in earlier grades so far have largely been overshadowed at the Capitol by the urgent issues surrounding the high-school end-of-course exams. The Legislature is on the verge of trimming from 15 to five the number of high-stakes tests needed for graduation.
Lawmakers are also hamstrung by federal law, which gives them little room to reduce the required exams in elementary and middle school. That means students will continue to take reading and math assessments each year beginning in third-grade as well as science in fifth- and eighth-grade.
The only state test not required by federal law will be in 8th-grade social studies, which covers early U.S. history.
For the remaining exams, the legislation aims to limit the subject matter that can be tested for high-stakes purposes so that teachers can go “more in depth rather than having to teach a mile wide and an inch deep,” Ratliff said.
That should help reduce the number of preparation tests that schools use, said state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, who worked closely with Ratliff on the legislation. Indeed, schools are limited to two benchmark tests under the legislation.
“I feel that this will actually increase rigor because we’ll have more opportunity to focus … on those most essential elements and maybe get beyond worksheets, have more project-based learning or interactive learning where students are hopefully having longer retention of what they are studying,” Farney said.
In addition, the bill requires an evaluation of the tests from an entity independent of the state and test designer to answer some of the parent concerns that the exams are not reliable indicators of student learning.