Texas House bill gives students more room to feel good

Posted Monday, Mar. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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HB5, the education bill scheduled to be debated today in the Texas House, is lukewarm as far as policy reforms go.

It gets high marks for addressing the vocal complaints of people opposed to current testing requirements for high school students. It may even take away some confusion about the state's public school accountability system.

But as far as making a difference in how well Texas students learn or enriching the educational process -- well, it's just not that kind of a bill.

It gets the accountability system, in particular its requirements for high school end-of-course exams, out of the way of students who want to do something else. It eliminates the unpopular notion that scores on end-of-course exams should count as 15 percent of student grades. That element had been added as way to push students to try harder on state tests, but many parents and some educators decided it went overboard.

HB5, by Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, received unanimous support at a committee meeting on March 12. Four House members joined Aycock as joint authors, and by Monday 54 more had signed on as co-authors.

What that means is that before debate even begins on the House floor, the bill has at least 59 votes, Republicans and Democrats, only 17 shy of a majority. To say it's likely to pass is to state the obvious.

Just don't call it an education reform bill. It doesn't focus on education. It focuses on testing and on labeling, not learning.

It has elements aimed at making students feel better about their academic performance.

Instead of the current three tracks toward a high school diploma -- called the minimum, recommended and advanced programs -- there will be only one. It will be called the foundation program.

Graduation is graduation, and no one need be labeled as having taken the "minimum" path toward that goal.

Instead, extra acknowledgement of achievement will be noted on diplomas and transcripts for those who qualify:

Distinguished achievement status will be given to those who successfully complete four math courses and four science courses, currently a requirement for all students.

Endorsements will be awarded to successful students in five areas of concentration: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); business and industry; public services (health science, education, law enforcement, culinary arts and hospitality); arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies.

Acknowledgements will be given to students who show outstanding performance in dual credit courses; advance placement or International Baccalaureate courses; or SAT, ACT, PSAT or ACT-Plan exams. The same recognition also will go to students who earn a recognized business and industry certification or license.

It's not exactly like every student gets a trophy for participating, but the new plan does find ways to treat more of them like star performers.

Required end-of-course exams will be trimmed from 15 to four: Algebra I, biology, English II and United States history. End-of-course exams in Algebra II and English III also will be available, but students don't have to take them if they don't want.

School districts and individual campuses will have a new way to make themselves feel special. With the help of a local committee, they'll rate themselves on school and student community engagement. That's supposed to include evaluation of performance in fine arts; wellness and physical education; community and parental involvement; a workforce development program; and second-language acquisition programs.

Gone will be the old accountability ratings. Instead of being called exemplary, recognized, acceptable or unacceptable, schools and districts will be given A, B, or C as passing grades or F for failing.

HB5 doesn't push students to greater heights as the Legislature has done in previous years' education reforms. It does its best to get things out of their way.

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