AUSTIN (AP) – A key education leader in the Texas Senate introduced a bill Tuesday to drastically overhaul high school graduation requirements and reduce by two thirds the number of standardized tests students must pass.
Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, wants to scrap requirements that students take four years each of math, science, English and social studies.
Instead, students would take four credits in English, three in math and social studies, and two in science and foreign language under a new system Seliger called the Foundation High School Program.
The math requirements would encompass algebra I, geometry and algebra II in most cases, while mandated science classes would be biology and, usually, integrated physics or chemistry. The social studies courses would include U.S. history, a half credit of U.S. government, a half credit of economics, and a world history or world geography class, or appropriate substitute approved by state officials.
Students would also have to take a fine arts credit and one in physical education — as well as 10 elective credits.
Instead of 15 exams in core subjects, students would need to pass five tests in reading and writing, algebra I, U.S. history, and biology. The measure would let school boards around Texas decide whether those tests would count toward anything besides graduation.
Currently, high school students are required to pass up to 15 exams as part of State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, which began being administered last school year and which replaced a previous statewide testing system known as TAKS.
Also Tuesday, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, a San Antonio Democrat, introduced a bill to shift the state away from what he called “high stakes” standardized testing.
Villarreal said in a statement that “lawmakers in Austin face a growing movement of parents, educators and business leaders clamoring for reform of the state’s school accountability system.”
Villarreal’s bill would limit the number of school days spent on testing while abandoning a requirement that performance on the STAAR exam count for 15 percent of some high school students’ final grades in core courses.
The so-called 15 percent rule caused an uproar among students, school officials and parents when the STAAR test was implemented, with critics arguing it could hurt grades and make Texas kids less attractive to university admissions boards. But it was never actually implemented, with the Texas Education Agency suspending it for last school year and this one.
A bill introduced previously by state Rep. Dan Flynn would declare a full moratorium on all standardized testing in Texas schools for two years. The Republican from Van wants to allow school district superintendents to use money that would have funded testing for instruction materials and to retain good teachers.
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