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Testing Rolled Back, Graduation Path Revised Under Texas Bill

Texas lawmakers have finalized a measure that would overhaul state graduation requirements, scaling way back the number of end-of-course exams high school students must pass to earn a diploma and redrawing the default course of study.

The legislation would reduce from 15 to five the required state exams. And it would replace the state's "recommended" diploma pathway with a "foundation" diploma that requires fewer courses in history, science, and math, allowing students to skip courses such as Algebra 2.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign the legislation, the Associated Press reports. It was unanimously approved in recent days by the Texas House and Senate.

All students still would have to pass state exams in Algebra 1, biology, English 1 and 2, and U.S. history, under the legislation. But they would not have to take end-of-course tests for Algebra 2, chemistry, physics, world history, and six other subjects, according to a Dallas Morning News story. It's worth noting that these changes were made before the call for 15 exit exams was ever fully implemented.

As I reported earlier this year, proponents called the legislation a reasonable approach to reducing testing and giving students more flexibility in selecting high school courses. But critics, including some Texas business leaders and national advocacy groups, argued that it represents a step backward for a state they see as being in the vanguard nationally in setting policies to better prepare young people, especially low-income and minority students, for college and careers.

"This lineup of tests will ensure schools are testing on fewer days, give teachers more time to teach, give schools more time to remediate students, and give us an accurate picture of how our students and schools are performing across Texas," said Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, the chairman of the Senate education committee, according to the Dallas Morning News story.

The measure divided the state's business community, with a leading voice of opposition coming from the Texas Association of Business.

Bill Hammond, the president of that organization, said only 25 percent of Texas students graduate high school "career or college-ready." He said, "I don't understand why so many of our lawmakers are dead set on running away from strong requirements meant to increase that number and putting in place standards that will do just the opposite," Hammond was quoted as saying by the Dallas Morning News.

The legislation would replace the state's "recommended" high school pathway—popularly known as "4x4"—under which students must successfully complete four years of coursework in English, mathematics, science, and social studies. Instead, it creates a new "foundation" diploma, with fewer specific course requirements. Students would be able to earn specified "endorsements" for such areas as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and business/industry if they wished. They also could go beyond that to earn a "distinguished level" diploma, which would require passing Algebra 2.

Under the plan, all students still must take at least four years of English, but three years each of math, science, and social studies. The math courses must include Algebra 1 and geometry. Science must include biology. In addition to the diploma with endorsements, students also could pursue a "distinguished level" diploma, which would qualify them for automatic admission to Texas state universities. This pathway would require additional coursework, including Algebra 2.

The state will still develop new end-of-course exams for English 3 and Algebra 2 to be used for diagnostic purposes. But those will be optional exams for districts to offer and would not be required for graduation or used in annual performance ratings of schools.

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