Sweeping Education Bill Would Slash STAAR Requirements, Introduce New School Rating System

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Jimmie Don Aycock
Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen)

Under a plan introduced today by new House Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), Texas high schoolers would need to pass one third as many STAAR exams to graduate, and schools would be evaluated with a three-part rating that includes new measures of good budgeting and community success.

Aycock’s House Bill 5 is a monstrous reworking of the education code that finally commits to legalese the testing and accountability reforms he and other lawmakers have batted around for the last year or so. Still, Aycock stressed this morning that it’s only meant as a starting point.

“It is not a final work product that will go to the floor. I’m asking members to give suggestions of where they think it ought to wind up,” he said at the Capitol this morning.

The roughest debate will probably focus on the bill’s changes to the state testing requirements for high school graduates and a new accountability system for Texas schools.

Under Texas law today, high schoolers must pass 15 end-of-course exams in order to graduate. Aycock’s bill would trim that down to five: algebra I, biology, U.S. history, and reading and writing tests for English II. Some advocates want zero tests and business groups have said they want more, but Aycock said five seemed like the place to start. “We’re hoping that’s a reasonable sweet spot,” he said.

Today, the state assigns schools ratings based on academics—STAAR test performance and graduation rate—but Aycock’s bill would create a three-part test of school quality, covering academics, money management and community satisfaction.

That second piece would mean creating one streamlined financial report for school districts. The “community” piece, as defined in the bill, includes programs for fine arts; wellness and physical education; community and parental involvement; workforce development program; and programs for English language learners.

As with the bill’s testing reforms, Aycock said he’s still flexible on the accountability program. “I’m somewhat willing to let local districts say, ‘This is where we need to get to as a community,’ and let them say, ‘How did we do?’”

Aycock’s bill would also strip the wildly unpopular “15 percent rule,” which ties 15 percent of a high school student’s grade to their STAAR test scores. A bill from Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) addressing that issue already sailed through the Senate floor morning.

Somewhere around 100,000 high school students in Texas are off-track to graduate, thanks to the new STAAR requirements—even after two rounds of retakes—which is why Aycock says it’s urgent to find a fix.

He’s far from the only one in the Capitol with a plan—in the Senate, Patrick, Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Leticia Van de Putte have (D-San Antonio) all filed big reform bills too. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) is among the House members with bills that would scale back STAAR testing.

With 11 other authors and co-authors (as of this writing), Aycock is lining up broad support to make sure his bill is the one the House sends to the Senate.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.

  • http://twitter.com/DrAnnSutherland AnnSutherland

    This would be a huge improvement. Fort Worth ISD now requires 109 different tests to various grades and student classifications. There is almost no two-week period in the school year where there are no tests. Teachers cannot maintain continuity in their classrooms; the days and weeks are chopped up beyond reason.

    Ann Sutherland, Ph.D.
    Trustee FWISD District 6

  • Alfredo Gurrola

    The single most important point that people are not factoring in the education equation is the parents and the children themselves. Until someone or somebody puts some backbone or accountability on the parents and the children themselves, our children will not improve as we all desire. No test or teacher is going to improve the education of a child that is always absent from school, or goes to school with out classroom supplies, or never studies, or never does homework. I am 100% sure that a well nurtured child from strict, disciplined, caring and not necessarily college educated parents, will enjoy educational success. Real life education begins at home and the attitudes or values to become educated come from the parents. Those parents that do not have or do not want those attributes need to be held accountable for their children’s success just like teachers and schools are held accountable for student performance. No government, legislature, or law is ever going to change this fact. Students of parents who do not go to school are taken to courts who do not want these problems stating that these are school problems. We need to make and enforce laws that will address these concerns. We also have to make sure that children want to go to school, that they believe that it is ok to be smart, and that they have appropriate role models that went to school and graduated from from college and speak and write and make sense. When our kids role models never finished school, are millionaires, can’t speak correctly, write correctly, and dress horribly, what are we to expect from our children. These are the role models our kids look up to and we have learned to accept this as a society.

    Alfredo Gurrola [email protected]

  • B. Stewart

    I agree with the previous comments and would like to add that the state makes the TEKS more difficult and then lowers the standard, so they will not look bad when results are released. I am in agreement with public officials that our children should be doing better in school, but much of this falls on the parents and society as a whole, and our youth have to decide that education is important. Also, parents have to decide education is important. I firmly believe that big business is behind much of the push for testing. Texas spent over a billion dollars of taxpayers money to test students last year and I am sure the lobbyist are out in full force for these companies. Why would they want less? They are cleaning house on this issue. Couldn’t some of that money be spent more wisely in our great state?
    B. Stewart HCISD