Last week, following nine hours of debate that involved more than 100 amendments, the Texas House passed HB5 — an education reform bill sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jimmie Aycock of Killeen, the Public Education Committee chairman — that slashes the number of end-of-course tests by 67 percent, from 15 to five.
It was co-sponsored by 70 representatives, including Rep. J.M. Lozano, who represents the newly created District 43, a largely rural district that includes Bee, Jim Wells, Kleberg and San Patricio counties.
The bill, enjoying broad bipartisan support, passed 145-2.
Lawmakers says that the bill’s attracting so many amendments is indicative of intense public interest.
So, too, is the pure volume of bills filed in both houses concerning education. “There’s just a ton of bills out there,” Thomas says.
House members also eliminated the STAAR requirement that the test results constituted 15 percent of a student’s grade.
The bill now heads for the Texas Senate, which also is considering its own bill.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Thomas says. “I like the idea that the legislators are backing off from the stringent four-by-four requirements.”
To be graduated, a student now must pass four years of math, science, English and social studies — a regimen that some critics say is too rigorous.
Proponents of the bill include business leaders who say the 4x4 system hampers their ability to find students who wish to enter the skilled workforce after graduation instead of attending college.
“I don’t think everybody needs to take the upper-division math and science courses,” Thomas says. “Not everybody needs calculus; not everybody needs physics. The tests need to be relevant to whatever a student’s career choice is.”
But, Thomas warns, the final legislation may barely resemble the dictates of HB5 because of changes decided by the Texas Senate.
Legislators predict the final bill will be hammered out by a House-Senate conference committee.
“I’m encouraged,” she says, “but I’m also a conservative, so I’m not going to say I’m optimistic.”
Thomas says she hopes a final bill will be passed before the end of the regular legislative session, rather than its being debated in special session.
“I don’t have a problem with our testing students to find out where they are on the curriculum,” Thomas says. “But, I don’t think the scores should be the sole judge of our schools.”
One of the focal points of the STAAR testing system is to supply a measure of how well a student is ready for college. But, Thomas questions its reliability.
“I don’t like the way the tests are being used,” she says. “I’ve known students who have done great in college, but they didn’t do that well on their scores. I’ve also known students with great scores who flunked out because they were not ready for college.”
HB5 and its Senate counterpart only address high school test scores. “What I would like to see,” Thomas says, “is for someone to address the number of tests the elementary and middle school students have to take.”
Twenty-five percent of the school year is devoted to testing — which doesn’t include taking other required tests and classroom preparation.
She used a calendar on her desk as an example:
“Today, we’re testing grade 4, day 1 writing, grade 7, day 1 writing, grade 5 math, grade 8 math and English 1 reading. Tomorrow, we administer grade 4, day 2 writing, grade 7, day 2 writing, grade 5 reading, grade 8 reading and English 2 reading. The next day, English 2 reading.
“It just goes on and on and on and on.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.