Revised graduation standards aren’t loss of rigor

Posted Friday, May. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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While large-scale state assessments offer insights into student and program performance, success or failure of a student or a campus cannot be viewed through the lens of standardized testing alone. We must ensure that there is a more comprehensive way to evaluate student achievement.

As the Texas Legislature debates changes to the state assessment and accountability program, proposed modifications must be met with an open mind, not a fearful one. Although House Bill 5 would reduce the number of state-required end-of-course exams for high school students from 15 to five, to assume a corresponding reduction in the rigor of our courses or the standards to which we hold our students would be false.

Course content, instruction and relevance to the students define the high level of standards to which our students and our educators are accountable. We fully support the reduction in required EOC exams in order to balance testing requirements with time available for instruction.

Determining the college- and career-readiness of our students does not depend exclusively on their performance on standardized tests. It is vital that we adapt accountability measures and graduation requirements to fit the needs of all students.

Graduation plans in the proposed legislation provide greater flexibility, rather than the current rigid requirement of four credits in the four core subjects, and allow increased opportunities for students seeking a future in a career and technical field, fine arts, humanities or foreign language.

The Senate amendment requiring students seeking automatic admission under the top 10 percent rule to take four years of math, including Algebra II, and four years of science, however, would prove difficult for students interested in endorsement options available under the legislation.

Many courses, particularly in career and technical education, contain advanced math and science that currently do not qualify for the fourth year of math or science. For example, Arlington students in our Fire Academy engage in a very rigorous curriculum in pursuit of their fire certification.

Students earning their heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technology certificate of completion take technical calculations, a math course at Tarrant County College. And students earning their business certificate take advanced accounting, principles of financial accounting, principles of managerial accounting and college algebra.

HB5 allows the State Board of Education to approve at least six advanced career and technical courses to count toward advanced math requirements. This would be a tremendous asset for students interested in career and technical programs.

Beginning this spring, the Arlington school district has 10 new career certificate programs that include dual credit from Tarrant County College, a progressive partnership that allows Arlington to provide unique and challenging opportunities for our students.

The provision in HB5 that allows students seeking the science, technology, engineering and math endorsement to take dual-credit courses designed for degree or certification attainment aligns well with our additions.

The Senate amendment that restores the state subsidy for any certification exams will help cover the cost of students pursuing these career paths and will help us ensure that students are career-ready upon graduation.

To reach our strategic plan goal of having all students graduate on time and excel at their school or career choice, we have developed 28 measures to evaluate our progress. These include participation and success in rigorous courses across the curriculum; being on track for high school completion in four years; college enrollment and graduation rates; extracurricular and co-curricular participation; and parent engagement.

There will not be a loss of rigor by making graduation requirements more flexible and consistent with community and state needs and reducing the number of required EOC exams. Instead, these create more options to equip our students to develop academic confidence and build a real-world foundation for their future.

Marcelo Cavazos is Arlington schools superintendent. Peter Baron is Arlington school board president. Wes Jurey is president and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

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