Senate education bill reduces standards

State Sen. Ken Seliger, R-Amarillo, is trying to ensure that many of the 28,000 Texas high school seniors currently in danger of not graduating will indeed get to flip their tassels in the spring.

However well-intended his efforts, they are also potentially harmful to the very students he is trying to help.

Under the current Texas Education Code, high school students must pass five end-of-course exams in order to earn their diplomas. That’s down from the 15 exams required up until two years ago when the Legislature, in response to the complaints of parents, reduced the number by two-thirds.

Even with the decreased testing, close to 10 percent of current high school seniors have failed at least one exam — some after multiple attempts. A discomfiting reality, no doubt.

Seliger thinks many of them should be allowed to graduate anyway, so long as they pass their courses and meet other requirements.

He proposed Senate Bill 149, which would allow school districts and open enrollment charter schools to to set up an individual “graduation committee” — consisting of the principal, the teacher of the relevant course, a school counselor and a parent or guardian — to determine if a student who has not passed all the tests still qualifies to graduate.

The committee would take into account the student’s overall performance, but could not allow a student to advance if he or she failed three or more exams.

Seliger’s bill, which similarly would allow students who fail state assessments in lower grades to advance, was swiftly approved by committee and is on its way to passage in the Legislature’s upper chamber. The Legislature may begin voting on non-emergency items Friday.

But legislators should carefully consider the harm this bill could cause before casting a vote.

It’s true that state exams are not only intended to test the knowledge of high schoolers, but to measure the effectiveness of our schools. If such a large percentage of seniors fail exams, at least in some cases our schools are failing them.

Our education system would cause more harm if it allowed teens to graduate without having met the minimum standards expected of them. That seems more like an attempt to paper over systemic failures than an effort to help kids.

It’s understandable that Selinger wants more teens to graduate from high school. We all do. But we must ensure they are prepared for the world beyond, and that begins with setting high expectations and helping students meet them.