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

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.

Staff writer Patrick Michels covers school reform and crime for the Observer.

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Published at 3:58 pm CST
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