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Texas Senate Votes to Exempt Some Students From Testing Requirements

The Texas Senate voted on March 17 to allow some students to earn a high school diploma even if they have not passed all five of the state's end-of-course exams typically required for graduation. If Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, were to sign the bill, it would be the second time in two legislative sessions that Texas lawmakers have reduced the mandatory testing burden on students. 

My colleague Catherine Gewertz wrote about this Texas bill after it passed out of the Senate education committee. (She also wrote about a similar effort under way in New York). The Texas measure passed almost unanimously, 28-2, and the bill from GOP Sen. Kel Seliger will now be sent to the House of Representatives. According to the Dallas Morning News, Seliger said his bill is aimed at Lone Star State students who haven't passed the required State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. That amounts to about 28,000 students in the class of 2015 who have failed at least one such exam, or 10 percent of this year's high school seniors. Those five required exams are the English I, English II, Algebra, Biology, and U.S. History exams. 

Instead, Seliger's Senate Bill 149 would establish "graduation" committees for individual students that could include principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents. These committees would require students to complete remediation in the subject in which the student did not pass the relevant STAAR exam, as well as projects and portfolios of work samples. The committees would also consider students' attendance rates, their grades in the courses in which they did not pass the STAAR test, and other factors.

The bill would apply to students who fail one or two of the required exams. 

"This is not designed to provide an easy exit for students," Seliger told the Morning News. But he did indicate that in his view some students are unfairly being held back by current STAAR requirements:

The legislation faces an uncertain future in the House, however.

In 2013, Texas dramatically cut the number of STAAR tests students had to pass in order to graduate. As my colleague Michele Molnar wrote before that 2013 bill (House Bill 5) passed, there was concerted pressure by parents in particular to cut the number of required Texas tests. (The Texas Legislature meets every two years.)

Earlier in 2013, I also wrote about Texas' lawmakers frustration with the results from STAAR exams, which legislators instituted through a law approved in 2009. 

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