The Texas Senate has now passed its own version of the House's education reform bill, HB5, that cuts the number of end-of-course exams required for graduation and gives students greater flexibility in their curriculum choices. The Senate and House have appointed a conference committee to negotiate about the two chambers' differences and finalize the bill. In this week's column, Senator Carlos Uresti details the changes and explains how they will chart a new course for public education in Texas.
Click below the fold to read Senator Uresti's column.
Texas has long struggled to attain the right balance between two fundamental components of a successful public education strategy – academic achievement and accountability. The Texas Senate has taken a major step toward creating such a balance, signaling a new day for public education.
After weeks of negotiations, the Senate voted unanimously to adopt an amended House Bill 5, which would bring sweeping changes for curriculum and testing requirements in Texas public schools. The legislation is designed to keep students from dropping out of school, give them more curriculum choices, prepare them better for college-level work, and encourage districts to maintain high academic standards.
The goal, in short, is to ensure that students get the most out of their public school experience.
One of the biggest complaints over the last several years has been the over-emphasis on end-of-course testing, which has encouraged many schools to focus on “teaching the test” at the expense of valuable classroom instruction time.
Under current law students must pass 15 required exams in order to graduate. HB 5 would reduce that to five tests – one each in biology, U.S. history, Algebra I, and English I and II. Districts will also have the option of giving two other end-of-course exams – but only to determine if students are prepared for college, not as a requirement for graduation or use in school or teacher ratings.
The scaled-back testing requirements will give teachers an opportunity to focus on the basics and instill a fundamental core of knowledge on which other learning is based, and relieve some of the pressure on students whose advancement is now tied to their performance on 15 separate tests.
The legislation also gives more flexibility to students by creating new diploma plans that provide more choices in the pursuit of career training courses.
The existing graduation plan requires four years of English, math, science, and social studies, while the proposed Senate plan requires four years of English, three years each of math, science, and social studies, plus an “endorsement” in a specialized area, such as business and industry; science, technology, engineering, and math; or arts and humanities.
Students could also opt to keep the so-called 4X4 requirement of English, math, science, and social studies, but with a more rigorous academic format.
Some have charged that these changes represent a retreat from the tougher graduation standards that Texas has required from its students. I disagree. The legislation merely recognizes that not all students are alike, and that we need a curriculum that can handle diversity.
However, these changes do present new challenges. They will require students to think earlier about what they want to do in life, more involvement by parents, and greater support for school counselors who will have to provide a higher level of guidance to students who are making life-altering decisions.
But all in all, the education reforms provided in HB 5 are necessary to improve the way we teach our kids the knowledge and skills they need to compete and thrive in a fast-approaching future.