A bill that would allow students to graduate from high school even if they don’t pass all state standardized tests has advanced to the floor of the Texas Senate.
To graduate from high school, students must pass five end-of-course State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. A bill in 2015 revised the requirement so that students who fail one or two of the tests could still graduate as long as they meet all other requirements, including passing all of their classes. A committee of the student’s teacher, principal and parents must give unanimous consent to his or her graduation. The provisions in the bill are set to expire in September.
The author of the 2015 bill Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has proposed Senate Bill 463, which would keep the option of graduation committees in place permanently.
“Nobody at NASA took a STAAR test, and yet they muddled their way to the moon and that I think describes the situation with quality students,” Seliger said during a committee hearing last week.
The Senate Education Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to pass the bill onto the full Senate for consideration. The House hasn’t held a committee hearing on the measure.
Parents, advocates and school district officials, some of whom have criticized the STAAR for being too difficult, have said that the committees give students with test anxiety, learning disabilities, and language barriers a reprieve from unfair penalties that keep them from moving on to careers and college after high school.
“We have to recognize that 25 percent of children in Texas live in poverty. While that is not an excuse, it is also a reality,” said Theresa Treviño, head of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, said during the committee hearing last week.
Critics, such as the Austin Chamber of Commerce, have said the policy has created an easy way for school districts and students to avoid the consequences of doing subpar work, possibly graduating students who are unprepared for life after high school.
“The intent of having a diploma is that it represents something,” said Drew Scheberle with the chamber. “And our concern with the individual graduation plans is that it would dilute that picture.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, 9,000 students graduated through the individual graduation committees in the 2015-16 school year, comprising about 3 percent of all graduates. Not all students who went through the committees were allowed to graduate; about 4,000 students were not allowed to graduate after going through the committees.
In the 2014-15 school year, the first year the policy was in place, 6,300 students graduated through the committees.