State Senate Passes Bill to Correct Overuse and Misuse of State Testing

The Texas Senate on Monday afternoon passed its own version of HB 5, the bill to cut the number of state end-of-course tests to five from the current 15 and to open new pathways to graduation. Some 29 amendments to the bill were considered in three hours of floor debate, some of it fairly contentious, but the bill passed 31 to zero. The outcome was testament to the profound unpopularity of the current state testing regime, which many parents, educators, and concerned citizens see as a mechanism to enrich the testing industry, not students’ education.

Key amendments included one by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) that would suspend campus performance ratings when insufficient funds are provided to help at-risk students struggling to pass state exams. Even though this judgment call would be left to the commissioner of education, who is unlikely to determine that funding is insufficient, the West amendment passed by a narrow margin of 17 to 14.

Another West amendment ruled out use of an A-to-F rating system for campuses, retaining the current campus ratings of exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable, and academically unacceptable. The effect would be to bar a planned A-to-F rating system already being put in place by the commissioner of education.  In a compromise with Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), this West amendment does allow the use of the A-to-F system for district as opposed to campus ratings. (Don’t ask us to find the principle that justifies the different rating scheme for districts. It is all about the political pressures of the moment, not sound policy.)

Two other important amendments were added by Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth). One of them eased the rigidity of a requirement that students take Algebra II in order to be eligible for college financial aid or for automatic university admission based on class rank. The Davis amendment said a student could take a locally developed, commissioner-approved course equivalent to Algebra II and still qualify for state grants and automatic admission.  The other noteworthy Davis amendment prohibits use of state assessments in ways that have not been demonstrated to be valid and reliable for the intended purpose.

You can anticipate more coverage of HB 5 in the Hotline as the bill now heads for an inevitable conference committee, where the House and Senate will seek to blend their different versions.