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A closer look at testing bills approved by the Legislature

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 5/28/2013 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE

High-stakes testing was one of the most talked-about issues this legislative session, and several high-profile bills were adopted pertaining to standardized testing and related subjects. On Sunday, May 26, the House and Senate both approved House Bill (HB) 2836 by Rep. Bennett Ratliff with a unanimous vote in each chamber. HB 2836 is an attempt to reduce the amount of time spent on standardized testing in grades 3 through 8. It limits the number of district benchmark tests that may be administered. The bill requires state tests to be validated and designed for the primary purpose of assessing students’ mastery of the curriculum. It demands better monitoring of state contracts with testing vendors. HB 2836 also calls for an interim study on curriculum standards in response to concerns about the high number of TEKS that have been adopted by the SBOE and the oft-repeated criticism that our TEKS are “an inch deep and a mile wide.” Additionally, HB 2836 requires a redesign of the tests used for students with significant cognitive disabilities and should help reduce the amount of teachers’ paperwork necessitated by those tests. The bill will also help prevent schools from being penalized under the accountability system for certain students referred to a residential facility for treatment. HB 2836 was sent to the governor today. The Legislature passed another testing reform bill that impacts elementary grades. Under HB 866 by Rep. Dan Huberty, certain students who achieve satisfactory scores on STAAR tests in in third, fifth and sixth grades may be permitted to skip the exams in grades four, six or seven. However, the bill’s implementation will necessitate a waiver from the federal government because of the No Child Left Behind Act. HB 866 passed the House unanimously and was approved by a vote of 29 to 2 in the Senate. It was sent to the governor Monday, May 27. The most comprehensive education reform bill approved by the Legislature this session was HB 5 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock. HB 5 deals with testing, graduation requirements and the accountability system. After much negotiation between the Senate and House and a widely reported deal under which the testing bill would be approved only upon passage of a charter school bill, the final version of HB 5 passed both chambers unanimously on Sunday night. As of Tuesday, May 28, the bill was headed to the governor’s desk. TESTING PROVISIONS OF HB 5: HB 5 decreases the number of mandatory end-of-course (EOC) tests from 15 to five. EOCs will be required for Algebra I, Biology, English I, English II, and United States History. The English I and II end-of-course assessments will cover both reading and writing, eliminating the need for separate tests. Chairman Patrick estimates that students and teachers will endure at least 40 fewer testing days under the HB 5 changes. The bill also limits the amount of time students can be removed from regular classes for test preparation or remediation. HB 5 prohibits the use of students’ EOC scores to determine class rank or entitlement to automatic college admission. Also, the law will no longer require students’ EOC scores to count as 15 percent of their final course grades. Colleges may consider students’ EOC scores for admission purposes but may not treat EOC scores as the sole criterion. In addition to the five required tests, districts will have the option of administering EOCs in Algebra II and English III for the purpose of measuring post-secondary readiness. While these scores will be reported to TEA, they may not be used for accountability purposes, for determining students’ course grades or class rank, for teacher evaluation purposes, for college admission or determining eligibility for a TEXAS grant. As in HB 2836, HB 5 limits the number of district benchmark tests that may be administered and requires TEA to redevelop assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities. The bill requires TEA to release the state test questions and answer keys for the next five years. School districts must disclose to teachers the results of their students’ test scores in the subject they taught. GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS UNDER HB 5: HB 5 replaces the Minimum, Recommended and Advanced High School graduation programs with a single diploma for all students under a new “Foundation High School Program.” The curriculum requirements for the foundation diploma are as follows:

  • 4 ELA credits, including English I, English II, English III and one advanced English course;
  • 3 math credits, including Algebra I, geometry and one advanced math course;
  • 3 science credits, including biology, at least one advanced science course, and either integrated physics and chemistry or an additional advanced science course;
  • 3 social studies credits, including US history, one-half credit each in government and economics, and one credit  in world geography or world history;
  • 2 foreign language credits (although some students, such as those with certain disabilities, will be authorized under SBOE rules to substitute other courses);
  • 5 elective credits;
  • 1 fine arts credit; and
  • 1 physical education credit. (Students with disabilities or illnesses who are unable to participate may substitute another course for this credit.)
Students who take additional or specific courses may earn endorsements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; or multidisciplinary studies. A student must take four math courses to earn any endorsement. HB 5 requires the SBOE to designate at least six advanced career and technology education or technology applications courses, including personal financial literacy and statistics, which may count as a student’s fourth credit in mathematics. The bill requires personal graduation plans and counseling about endorsements and post-secondary options for each student. HB 5 requires that students declare their intent to pursue an endorsement upon entering ninth grade, but they may change their endorsement at any time. Parental consent is required for a student to graduation without an endorsement. The bill also allows students to earn a distinguished achievement designation, which will be necessary for them to be eligible for automatic college admission under the “top 10 percent” rules. (Students who complete only the foundation program are still eligible to apply for regular college admission.) A student who earns an endorsement and completes four credits each in math and science, in addition to the other foundation diploma requirements, is eligible for the distinguished achievement designation. A student may also earn an acknowledgment for achieving an industry certification or for outstanding performance in a dual credit course, in bilingualism/biliteracy, or on certain nationally-recognized tests such as the SAT or ACT. The commissioner of education will adopt a transition plan to implement HB 5 beginning with the 2014-15 school year. A student who entered ninth grade before the 2014-15 school year must be permitted to choose between completing the new foundation high school program or one of the three programs being replaced (minimum, recommended or advanced). Also, students who are entering seniors in the 2013-14 school year and who do not satisfy the requirements of the minimum, recommended or advanced high school program in which they are currently participating must be allowed to graduate if they have met the requirements of the new foundation high school program. ACCOUNTABILITY PROVISIONS OF HB 5: HB 5 calls for changes to the accountability system. It adds indicators for the number of students earning endorsements or distinguished achievement, as well as some other criteria. Each school district will evaluate its own performance and the performance of each campus in the district in community and student engagement. HB 5 creates some accountability exceptions pertaining to dropout rates. The bill also calls for assigning A through F grades to school districts rather than ratings such as “acceptable” or “recognized,” although those existing labels will continue to be used for campuses. For districts, a rating of A, B, or C will reflect acceptable performance, and a rating of D or F will reflect unacceptable performance. The commissioner may award distinction designations for districts and campuses with outstanding performance in the attainment of postsecondary readiness, improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps. HB 5 includes some changes to financial accountability measures, as well, including a requirement for corrective action plans in some circumstances. Finally, under HB 5, TEA must create an online Texas School Accountability Dashboard with extensive information on campus performance. MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS OF HB 5: The bill includes language to ensure that districts use available funding to provide accelerated instruction to students who are failing. HB 5 also makes changes to the state’s method of payment for school districts’ purchases of instructional materials. View the entire bill here.


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