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Deshotel Bill Would Scrap Testing As Graduation Requirement

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Joe Deshotel
Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont)

Education leaders in the House and Senate each have competing plans to scale back Texas’ school testing requirements and reform requirements for high school graduation. Tuesday afternoon, though, a House committee heard a new proposal from Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), to roll back testing even further.

His House Bill 1423 would lower the stakes of the STAAR test, by removing the requirement, on the books since 1994, that students pass state exams to graduate. Deshotel’s proposal would limit testing to the federal requirements—just math, reading and science, and only one of each test in high school.

House Public Education chair Jimmie Don Aycock’s test reform bill, HB 5, has already been passed out of the committee. Deshotel’s bill would scale back testing more dramatically, but would also prevent any “agent” of a testing contractor from running for the State Board of Education or advising the state on testing.

The bill would scrap Texas’ three current graduation plans and replace them with one plan, under which students can choose one of five “endorsements” based on their interests. Senate Education chair Dan Patrick has a similar plan, meant to encourage students interested in studying career skills, and while it’s a popular idea this session, it’s also raised concerns it might recreate a system of tracking minority students away from college readiness.

The business coalition Jobs for Texas, which includes 23 trade associations, backs Patrick’s plan, and showed up Tuesday to support Deshotel’s as well. Texas Chemical Council President and CEO Hector Rivero, a member of the coalition, said some businesses may leave the state to find skilled workers if the current system continues.

Linda Holcombe, executive director of the career and technical educators association TIVA, pointed to an Austin American-Statesman article that explores the trend of vocational jobs becoming more technical and higher paying. “While in the past career and technology might have been a dumping ground we are getting away from that,” Holcombe said. “It’s no longer about shop, it’s about robotics.”

Austin Chamber of Commerce vice president Drew Scheberle disagreed. He spoke for another side of the business community that’s opposed to removing the so-called four-by-four requirement for high schoolers—four years of math, science, English and social studies—that puts students on equal footing but leaves little flexibility in their schedules. He worried that Deshotel’s bill, by removing the four-by-four, could usher in a new era of tracking in Texas schools—even if lawmakers hope to safeguard against it.

“If you want to micromanage the school districts you can,” Scheberle said. “You’re going to try to legislate the day-to-day.”

Deshotel said Scheberle had it backwards, though, that tracking is a problem under today’s system. “I think we’re sort of doing this with the four-by-four and tracking them right out of school,” Deshotel said. “It is based in many parts on socioeconomic status.”

Because the four-by-four only offers one path, he said, students who are disheartened by testing simply drop out. “They get very stressed out at these tests,” Deshotel said. “We’re trying to give them some alternatives.”