AUSTIN (AP) — Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams on Friday deferred the requirement for schools to count new end-of-course exams as 15 percent of a student’s grade during this school year.

Williams’ announcement at a conference of experts on standardized testing came the day after Governor Rick Perry suggested ending the practice of including the test in final grades completely. Perry appointed Williams in August.

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Williams said he’d also received letters from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick to suspend the so-called “15 percent rule.” Hundreds of educators gave Williams a standing ovation when he made the announcement.

Lowering the stakes when it comes to how students fare on the exams — known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR — has support among Republicans and Democrats. Parents have backed the idea, too, though business groups have expressed concern over schools churning out an uneducated workforce.

Under the rule, the end-of-course exams must count as 15 percent of a student’s final grade in some core subjects. The Texas Education Agency already gave ninth-graders a break from the requirement this school year after more than 50 percent of students failed the writing exam.

Friday’s deferral gives those same students off the hook as sophomores, too.

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Students still must take the test — and score well enough in order to graduate down the road. Created in 2009 and implemented last school year, STAAR replaced the much-maligned Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.

“Deferring the 15 percent rule for this school year relieves some of the pressure being felt in Texas districts as we continue the transition to a more rigorous accountability system,” Williams said Friday. “This deferral also allows the Texas Legislature ample opportunity to address the various issues and concerns that have been expressed about implementation of the new system.”

Seizing on federal data this week that showed the state’s graduation rates ranking among the nation’s best, Perry asked his new education commissioner to again defer the 15 percent rule until fall 2013. He is also championing a bill that would do away with it entirely.

“While we must continue to adhere to our state’s accountability system, we must also recognize the importance of local control,” Perry said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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