Trading standardized tests for flexibility, new accountability

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The time has come for Texas students to focus on learning instead of preparing for state-mandated standardized tests. That's why I have filed House Bill 5. The bill has broad support from parents, educators and the business community.

It would improve Texas public education in three important ways. It would give students more flexibility to explore their individual interests as they prepare for higher education and the workforce. It would reduce the burden of state tests that play too large a role in our education system. And it would provide new measures to make our schools more accountable.

Legislation approved in 2007 required students to pass 15 end-of-course exams in 12 high school courses, starting with the class of students who are now sophomores. The 2007 law was written to ensure that high school students learn the material needed for graduation.

However, the new testing requirements have hampered local control of education and imposed a constant, inflexible regime of testing that interferes with teaching.

HB5 would reduce the number of end-of-course assessments from 15 to five: English II (reading and writing), Algebra I, Biology and U.S. History. The bill also would eliminate intrusive state mandates, such as the requirement that the exams affect a student's grade and the confusing-to-calculate cumulative score that serves as a "gotcha" to graduation.

Students, parents and business leaders also want our high schools to offer a broader selection of rigorous courses and academic pathways to keep students engaged and focused on preparing for their future. The one-size-fits-all model for high school does not fit anyone, which is a problem for our students and our economy.

Texas is a great place to do business, but our workforce is aging, and our schools aren't producing nearly enough qualified skilled workers to fill the gap.

My bill would provide flexibility for students to develop their individual talents and pursue jobs that match those talents. It would create one diploma that gives all students a variety of opportunities after high school. Students could earn endorsements in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), business and industry, public service, arts and humanities or multidisciplinary studies after passing challenging courses customized to those areas.

Research shows that young people stay engaged in education when they believe it is relevant to their lives, and this bill would give students more opportunities to explore the subjects that interest and motivate them.

All graduates would be able to apply to a Texas four-year university and have the opportunity to obtain financial aid with a Texas Grant. Both of these changes are a departure from current law and better serve the needs of our diverse student population.

The legislation also would allow school ratings to better reflect local values by allowing communities to set goals and evaluate performance locally.

Also, a new state rating system would measure schools on academic performance, financial performance, and community and student engagement. The ratings would be released at the same time to provide a clearer understanding of a school's overall track record and would use understandable labels of A, B, C and F.

It is time for us to make public schools more relevant for students while maintaining rigor. As we do so, we can better prepare students to succeed in higher education and in the jobs that will continue to power the growth of our economy.

Texas Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, chairs the House Public Education Committee.

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