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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bonnen Helps Pass Bill to Reduce Emphasis on TAKS Test

Insider's Report Vol. 7, No. 17

Grants students greater flexibility in class selection

Last week, I joined fellow House members in passing a massive school reform bill, which was the result of two years of research on school accountability and curriculum.  Unanimously passed by the House of Representatives, House Bill 3 will significantly decrease emphasis on the TAKS test, allow greater flexibility in a student's graduation plan, and move our state towards a more realistic and relevant educational system.

Since accountability testing was originally developed as a diagnostic tool, it was never intended to evolve into the high stakes test that is now dominating every aspect of our public schools.   Across my legislative district, parents and teachers have overwhelmingly let me know that this undue emphasis is stifling other learning.  In fact, last session I carried legislation calling for  TAKS testing at the high school level to be replaced with end-of-course exams.  For all grade levels, HB 3 grants even more local control to school districts by allowing them to use their own standards, including class grades and teacher recommendations, to promote students from one grade to another instead of being forced to rely on one major test.

I am especially pleased that HB 3 allows applied courses to be used to meet core curriculum requirements on the high school level.  In the last few years, I have met with many industry and school leaders who have stressed the need for more paths to success for our students.   My stance has always been that a "one size fits all" statewide curriculum is not realistic in meeting workforce needs nor does it motivate students to develop their strengths and interests.

I also worked to ensure that HB 3 allows high school students and parents the flexibility of choosing eight electives in addition to a strong academic core.   A major complaint I have heard from teachers and parents alike is that today's students find it difficult to enroll in fine arts courses, sports, or vocational courses because of the large number of required courses. Students must take summer school just to participate in band or sports all four years.  Others are unable to find room for a welding or process technology course that could help them on a career path.  HB 3 will maximize these elective credits.  At the same time, school districts will have the local control to require any electives they choose.

In a major shift, under HB 3 school performance ratings will be revamped with an emphasis on individual student achievement instead of passing rates of student groups.  The current accountability system doesn't consider whether a student or school misses the mark by an inch, or by a mile.  Evaluations will include dropout rates and financial integrity.  Credit will be given to our students and schools for making progress, no matter where a student starts.

Let me emphasize that HB 3 does not lower standards.  Our goal in public education is to prepare students for future success.  A central piece of this legislation will be to increase the percentage of students meeting postsecondary standards and graduating students with the knowledge and skills needed for college or the workforce.  Brazoria County school districts have been very successful in meeting accountability standards, posting some of the highest scores in the state.  I strongly feel that HB 3 will allow teachers and administrators more options and give them the flexibility and local control to do their jobs even better.

Both the House and Senate have passed educational reform bills.  A committee will work out differences in the two bills before this legislation is passed.  I can assure you that I will continue to support any and all legislation that reduces the emphasis on high-stakes testing in our schools and provides for a more relevant curriculum for our students.