High school seniors who have failed their state exams may still have a shot at earning a diploma as a bill providing them a way around the requirement continued to advance Tuesday in the Texas Legislature.
The state Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 149, which would allow panels made up of educators, counselors and parents to weigh factors like grades, college entrance exam scores and attendance to decide whether a student should graduate despite poor performance on state standardized exams.
The bill was approved on a 28-2 vote and sent to the House. Voting no were two Tarrant County senators: Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
Introducing his proposal on the floor, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the bill’s author, said it was “not designed to provide some kind of easy exit,” but to give some qualified high school seniors a way to graduate if state standardized exams are the only obstacle preventing it.
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The law would expire in two years if the Legislature does not opt to renew it.
Seliger said his measure is aimed at the 28,000 seniors from the Class of 2015 who are in danger of not graduating because they have not passed one or more of the tests.
When the bill was heard in committee, some lawmakers expressed concern over the objectivity of a panel made up of educators who might be docked in school ratings if their student did not graduate.
The plan has also received criticism from the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, which argue that it would lead to even greater numbers of students graduating who are not adequately prepared for careers or higher education.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business and a former House member, predicted the Senate proposal will lead to the same result as the lower grades, where most students who fail the STAAR simply move on to the next grade.
“We are disappointed the Senate is going to effectively eliminate any substantive requirement for juniors and seniors to prove they are college or career ready when they graduate,” Hammond said.
“The creation of these review committees will effectively reinstate social promotion. It also reduces the value of the diploma for all those who worked hard in school and proved their skills on these tests.”
About 28,000 students in the class of 2015 still must pass one or more of the five state exams in U.S. history, biology, algebra I, English I and English II required to graduate. Of those in the class of 2015 who need to retake exams, about half must retake more than one.
“Not all 28,000 of these kids are going to be viewed affirmatively by these committees, but an awful lot of them are,” Seliger said.
The bill now heads to the House.
This report includes material from The Dallas Morning News.