In 2015 the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 149 as a two-year experiment to allow students to graduate from high school based on an assessment of their whole body of work, not their inability to pass one or two of the state’s standardized end-of-course exams (the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR). The bill has offered a chance for thousands of students to graduate by demonstrating their academic proficiency in other ways, such as completion of projects or portfolios or even passing college courses taken via dual enrollment while in high school. Students still have to pass all their courses plus a majority of the STAAR exams, and SB 149 still gives the final say over a student’s readiness to graduate to an individual graduation committee made up of the student’s parent, teacher, and administrator, and the committee’s decision must be unanimous. Not all students who try this alternative have made it, but some 2 percent of graduating seniors have succeeded by this route.
Now the Senate and House authors of the bill have filed companion measures in the 2017 session to remove the 2017 expiration date on the program, making this STAAR bypass a permanent feature of state law. At a January 12 press conference, Sen. Kel Seliger (Republican of Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (Republican of Houston) announced the introduction of their companion bills, SB 463 and HB 966, with the backing of parents, educators, and students affected. As Rep. Huberty put it, they are seeking to extend the program because “this worked.”
The two lawmakers made some telling points about the misuse of state testing as they laid out the case for renewing this legislation. Sen. Seliger said there is “nothing magical about the STAAR,” noting that the folks at NASA “muddled our way to the moon” without ever taking a STAAR exam. As Seliger noted, “STAAR exams do not even factor into college admissions.”
The senator cited example after example of students who have graduated via this alternative to the STAAR test and who are excelling now in postsecondary education settings. Rep. Huberty said as a state “we have failed our students” by putting excessive pressure on them to pass the state’s exam, even though “a single test cannot paint the picture of whether a student is college- or career-ready.” Huberty added that the point of the bill he and Seliger passed is not to “circumnavigate” assessment but to assess the student’s performance accurately.
Seliger and Huberty both alluded to further legislation that will be introduced to put more common sense into the state’s assessment and accountability policies. You can anticipate further Hotline reports on such bills as they are filed and begin to move through the process.