Texas lawmakers want to remove end-of-course STAAR assessments for graduating seniors

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new bill being discussed in the Texas House and Senate would give high school upperclassmen a break on their yearly end-of-course exams: standardized tests which require a passing grade for graduation.

Texas currently requires seniors to pass English I, English II, U.S. History, Algebra I and Biology assessments. But the new, temporary bill would allow school districts to disregard those test scores altogether, and instead receive final approval from an individual graduation committee.

“One exam does not measure everyone’s intellect,” said Senator Jose Menendez, the author of Senate Bill 2058. “We are not saying you get an automatic pass. Someone is going to review your work. Someone is going to review that you did the work. You have to show competence of the subjects.”

School officials say they consistently see students struggle to pass their EOC courses despite passing the associated course during the school year. They point to a number of contributing factors, like test anxiety. However, the most obvious hurdle for current students is the affect the pandemic had on learning.

“We’d have to have our heads in a ground in a hole somewhere if we didn’t understand that COVID has disrupted everyone’s life,” Menendez said. “I just don’t think its fair to graduating seniors, or seniors who should be graduating, to be limited just to the end-of-year exams when there could be a committee that could be reviewing them.”

On top of that, when the Spring 2020 STAAR exams were waived, Austin ISD officials said that expanded the timeline between when a student learned a subject and when that knowledge was assessed.

“They are going back to content that has not been taught for a long time for them. So it’s a stressful situation,” said Carolyn Hanschen, Austin ISD’s executive director of accountability and assessment. “They’ve missed lots of opportunities to take these tests because of the COVID situation of the past year.”

The individual graduating committees are already in place. But the current education code requires students to attempt and fail an EOC before a review becomes an option. Menendez’s bill would mean students don’t even have to attempt the exam.

He says there is bipartisan support, but still mentioned some lawmakers feel strongly that you shouldn’t be able to graduate if you can’t pass a core exam. Despite this, it has the support of the Austin Independent School District.

“Testing is great, but for those students who may struggle, they have the opportunity to show the great things they are capable of,” said AISD’s secondary counseling coordinator, Shakira Hamilton-Adams.

If the bill passes as it is currently written, it would apply for all current high schoolers over the next three years as they approach their senior year and ultimate graduation. It would take effect immediately and expire in 2023.

An identical bill has already passed out of the House Public Education Committee last week.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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