What Do Texas Business Leaders Say We Should Do About STAAR? Glad You Asked.

Until today, TAB president Bill Hammond has been a steadfast defender of STAAR. Today, though, he unveiled a plan to tweak it in response to critics.
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Texas business leaders explain their plan for public school accountability reform.
Patrick Michels
From left, Justin Yancy of the Texas Business Leadership Council, Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond, and Texas Institute for Education Reform Chairman Jim Windham explain their plan for adjusting Texas' school testing and accountability system.

There is great unrest over testing in Texas schools, and a few Texas business leaders have some opinions about what we should do.

Until today, Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond has been the STAAR testing regimen’s staunchest defender, meeting every new round of criticism with calls to hold fast, to stay the course, to never surrender.

If you’re wondering why the business community is trying to call the shots about school testing, well, you must be new here. The business community wants its measurables, and it will have its measurables. Two years ago, Hammond wanted the Legislature to pass an accountability system for pre-K, because employers need to know their little pencil-pushers of the future will master pushing those crayons first.

So this morning at the Capitol, Hammond announced his group was doubling down on its commitment to tough school standards… by cutting two STAAR exams and creating new graduation paths requiring even fewer tests. “HB 3 quite honestly overdid it a little bit,” Hammond said, referring to the 2009 measure that created today’s testing program.

“We still believe that those core principles [behind the original STAAR program] are intact,” explained Jim Windham, who chairs the Texas Institute for Education Reform. “Some modifications that may assist with the implementation of this plan.”

The new plan would create four high school diploma tracks: humanities, business and industry, STEM (that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and a new, lighter “foundation” diploma. All but foundation would keep the “4 by 4″ requirement that graudates take four years of math, English, social studies and science. Depending on the pathway, a student would need to pass between eight and 10 end-of-course exams to graduate—way less than the 15 required of all students today. Their plan includes a scaled-back phase-in term when students would need to pass even fewer tests. The STAAR program for grades three to eight would remain as-is.

But Hammond said he’d tolerate no further whining about students being knocked off the graduation track by because they failed an end-of-course STAAR exam. “They’ve already been given a reprieve,” he said, because it takes as little as 37 percent to pass some of the tests.

Windham called this new plan the “post-secondary readiness gold standard.” He and Hammond said the plan was the result of months of travel and meetings with lawmakers, and it reflects lawmakers’ enthusiasm for new alternative graduation path that respects career, not college, readiness—an approach that’s sure to draw critics wary of creating a system that “tracks” some students with lower expectations than others.

“We simply are not improving quickly enough in the competitive world we live in,” said Justin Yancy of the Texas Business Leadership Council.

The new plan would also completely eliminate the new end-of-course exams in world history and geography.

“U.S. history is minimally acceptable, we believe, for a Texas graduate,” Windham explained.

“If we could get ‘em past the Civil War,” Hammond said, “we’d be doing pretty good.”