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East Texas school officials applaud student testing bill

By by Peggy Jones
Jan. 22, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Educators from across Northeast Texas cheered a bill Tuesday authored by a West Texas state senator that would drastically reduce state-mandated student testing and change high school graduation requirements.

Senate Bill 225 is the 12th bill introduced that would revamp school testing. Republican Sen. Kel Seliger, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, filed the bill Tuesday. It would cut the number of state standardized tests that students must pass to graduate from 15 to five, and would test students solely on reading, writing, biology, algebra I and U.S. history.

SB 225 also would let local school boards decide how much the state exams would count toward graduation. A rule that requires end-of-course exams to count toward 15 percent of students' final grade is suspended, but it would take effect again next year unless lawmakers change it.

Seliger's bill would restructure high school graduation plans. The requirement of four years each in math, science, English and social studies would be replaced by a 26-credit Foundation High School Program, which would require students to earn 16 credits in core subjects plus 10 electives. The program would allow students to earn diploma "endorsements" by completing five credits in areas of studies such as humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

Several area educators applauded the intent of Seliger's bill, if not the details.

"There are some good ideas in this bill, but there is room for improvement in the areas of course options for graduation and moving farther away from the standardized testing system," said White Oak ISD Superintendent Mike Gilbert.

Seliger's bill is one of many introduced addressing the stringent student assessment tests. And more than 800 Texas school boards have passed resolutions condemning what many call incessant testing that keeps teachers from being able to teach.

With so many bills already filed, Gilbert expressed faith that one or more would pass.

"I believe there will be significant changes made during this session," Gilbert wrote in an email. "If not, then legislators will have completely ignored the will of the voters in their districts."

Longview ISD spokesman Adam Holland said, "While there is much debate about the number of (core course) credits that should be required in public schools, most school officials and parents concur that the frequency of state-mandated tests is out of control."

Wes Jones, superintendent of Spring Hill ISD, called the bill a step in the right direction.

"We would like to see plans for graduation that include meaningful flexibility to earn a high school diploma with appropriate and rigorous foundation courses aligned to endorsement areas for college and career preparation," Jones said.

"Educators agree and support accountability, but not where we are now. Testing has gotten out of control. More and more state testing isn't the answer to prepare our students for the competitive job market," he added.

Pine Tree ISD Superintendent T. J. Farler said she believes SB 225 has a chance to gain momentum, and she referenced the philosophy contained in a report by the Texas Association of School Administrators published in 2008, which stated, "... Educating our youth is a state responsibility but a local function... The school district's role has been relegated to one of compliance, and the local community has been denied the opportunity to make the more important decisions and choices regarding the education of the children and youth who live there."

Other bills that would revamp student testing include a bill from state Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, which would let districts decide how or if to include state standardized tests in final grades. Callegari's bill would remove graduation requirements tied to students' test performance and would eliminate the number of subjects tested at many grade levels, including high school.

Two other bills have been filed that would leave the so-called 15 percent rule up to the discretion of local districts.

Gilbert predicted one or another would pass.

"I do not think there is anyone in Austin that wants to defend this part of the assessment bill. Everyone realized that this was an extreme case of overkill... There will be legislation to end this requirement," he said.

<em>- The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.</em>



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