High school seniors will be the only students who face consequences for failing or opting out of required state exams this year if the Legislature fails to act. Legislation that would help seniors graduate even if they failed STAAR is stalled as the final day of session and graduations […]
Legislation that would help seniors graduate even if they failed STAAR is stalled as the final day of session and graduations near.
The bill would give such high schoolers an alternate path to obtaining a diploma through graduation committees. While the measure has passed the House, it hasn’t made it out of the Senate Education Committee.
High school seniors will be the only students who face consequences for failing or opting out of required state exams this year if the Legislature fails to act.
Gov. Greg Abbott already eliminated consequences for younger learners because of the pandemic. He waived the requirement that students must pass their State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams to advance to sixth or ninth grade.
“It is the only bill in the entire building that offers any sort of relief or accommodation to seniors, who have endured the same unprecedented interruption and delays and obstacles as every other student in Texas,” said Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, who authored the bill. “Why this is the student group that we would hesitate on, I don’t know.”
If the legislation passes, students would still need approval from an individual graduation committee. The committees -- which were set up in 2015 and have graduated more than 58,000 students since -- are made up of educators who evaluate student progress and craft plans for students to demonstrate proficiency in required subjects in order to graduate.
Students can only use the committee system if they have failed up to two of five required end-of-course tests. Bernal’s bill would allow the committees to disregard all STAAR results for this year’s class of graduating seniors. The process could resume as normal next school year though a bill provision under consideration would allow the education commissioner to extend the waiver to juniors.
Many students may not graduate without the legislation, the lawmaker said.
In the San Antonio area, for example, about 1,500 students would be helped by the bill, said Julia Grizzard, the executive director of the Bexar County Education Coalition during a hearing earlier this week.
The legislation could remove barriers at a time when students are facing tremendous challenges outside the classroom, said Ana Ramón, the deputy director of advocacy for the Intercultural Development Research Association. During the pandemic, IDRA surveyed students and found a significant spike in mental wellness issues.
“An added test and punitive measures is only going to exacerbate that as they are trying to recover from what is hopefully a once-in-their-lifetime incident like COVID,” she said during an Education Lab panel discussion on Friday.
The matter gets at a larger question about how much schools should rely on state exams, said Doug Williams, superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD and president-elect of the Texas Association of School Administrators.
The test should be used as a diagnostic tool, not a “thumbs-up, thumbs-down, pass-fail,” Williams said during the panel discussion.
Bernal said the inaction on his legislation points to the value some lawmakers assign to the exam.
“This is a reminder that some people are much more comfortable and married to the STAAR exam than they say they are publicly,” Bernal said. “Somehow this thing is still the center of gravity at a time when we know it absolutely shouldn’t be.”
The past year of school has been full of disruption and chaos for many Texas students who had to quickly adapt to new learning environments. Education experts estimate students may be months or more behind in school.
Education Commissioner Mike Morath cited the altered learning environment when the governor announced the grade promotion requirement waiver nearly one year ago.
Morath acknowledged the usefulness of the STAAR results to diagnose a student’s progress during a period of substantial disruption.
“But there is no benefit to our children by requiring them to repeat a year based on a single test score given the disruptions of COVID,” Morath said then.
Morath doesn’t have the authority to waive STAAR consequences for high school students and repeatedly stated over the last year that any relief must come from the statehouse.
The legislative session ends on May 31, and Wednesday is the last day the Senate can give the bill the approval needed for further consideration by lawmakers.
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The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.