The firestorm over standardized testing in the K-12 accountability system that has been building in Texas for over two years is coming to a major showdown, and the primary context of the debate is now House Bill 5, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 145-2 and, after several amendments, was passed by the Senate unanimously. It now heads for a conference committee to iron out the House/Senate differences.
Our organization, the Texas Institute for Education Reform (www.texaseducationreform.org), is a major opponent of this bill and I testified at the Senate hearing in opposition to it. Why? Several reasons:
· Achieve, Inc., a major national education reform coalition, gave the Texas system, adopted in 2009 and to date only partially implemented, its only top rating in accountability criteria in terms of its college and career readiness indicators.
· We have been on a journey leading to this standard and expectations for our students and educators for twenty years and just as we have reached our objective, powerful forces want to roll it back.
· If HB 5 becomes law, the number of high school end of course exams required for graduation will be reduced from 15 to 5, and not one standardized exam beyond 10th grade rigor and content will be required for graduation!
· This will take Texas back, not just to the pre-2009 days, but to the pre-1993 days, and will severely undermine the postsecondary readiness standard and the progress in advancement of expectations that has been our shared commitment for 20 years.
It’s pretty easy to dismiss recent editorials from The New York Times and The Washington Post about this legislative threat to the rigor of the Texas high school diploma and to demonize and demagogue on the state testing vendor and “powerful political interests”. It’s not so easy to dismiss the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Business Leadership Council, the National Math and Science Initiative, Achieve, Inc., the Fordham Foundation, former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, Education Trust, La Raza, LULAC, and a number of Fortune 500 companies. All of these have written and spoken of the damage that will be done to the higher expectations we should have for our educators and our students, particularly the most vulnerable, if HB 5 becomes law.
And which constituencies will bear the brunt of this rollback? Not the educators; not the suburban parents who are whining about the “out of control testing regime”; but those students, mainly poor and minority, who are the most vulnerable, many of whom will be “tracked” into less rigorous vocational curriculum pathways in ways that benefit school district graduation rates and ratings and the educator bonuses that follow.
This will be a tragic decision for Texas and will reverberate throughout the country. And it will have a significant impact on the large and growing workforce “skills gap”. Currently, 51% of Texas high school graduates require remediation at taxpayer expense upon entering community colleges, and only 19% of Texas students in the 2000 cohort of 8th graders have in hand any type of postsecondary credential, including college or industry certification, seven years beyond expected high school graduation. With the dilution of standards, these numbers are unlikely to improve, adding to budget and social pressures, but, more ominously, short-changing our kids even more, as they struggle to find postsecondary success either in college or the demanding 21st century workplace. What a shame.