By Mary Alys Cherry
High school students and their parents have more than the upcoming holidays to celebrate this month. They just won a key battle in Austin, where Education Commissioner Michael Williams said he will defer the state-mandated 15 percent testing rule this school year.
And, it appears the controversial measure may be on the way out with parents and educators all across the state opposing the rule.
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has filed legislation that would kill the mandate and allow school districts to determine how much – if any — the test score should figure in a student’s final grade, and Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to Williams suggesting that the state end the practice of including the test scores in final grades.
Clear Creek ISD Superintendent Greg Smith was delighted with the news.
“We would like to thank Commissioner Williams and the governor for taking action on this matter. Clearly, it is in the best interest of all students. We ask that the 15 percent not just be deferred but eliminated all together. The issuance of grades is an educator’s responsibility,” Dr. Smith said.
“While we applaud the state for deferring the 15 percent Rule, there is still the troubling issue that students must accrue a certain amount of points per core content End of Course Exam to graduate.”
The Austin actions came only hours after the Clear Creek School Board voted unanimously at its monthly meeting to ask the Texas Legislature to take immediate action to rescind its mandate that STAAR End-Of-Course Examinations (EOC) count as 15 percent of students’ grades in related courses.
Trustees also called on Gov. Rick Perry to treat their request as an emergency item on his legislative agenda.
Grades on student report cards should be left up to teachers, not the legislature, trustees said, and that was the message they hoped to send to lawmakers. State law now requires the STAAR End-of-Course Exam, a state assessment, to count towards 15 percent of a student’s final grade for all high school core courses.
“The Clear Creek Independent School District believes that classroom teachers are in the best position to determine grades that accurately reflect a student’s mastery of a subject and that their authority to assign such grades must not be constrained by legislative edicts related to artificial and arbitrary state assessments,” said Trustee Page Rander as she read the resolution during the Nov. 26 meeting.
During the school board meeting, Dr. Smith called the mandate “so confusing, so inappropriate.” He felt so strongly about the resolution the trustees had before them that he asked Trustee Paige Rander to read the entire three-page document to the audience, which applauded when the resolution passed.
“We think it’s a vacuum that will suck kids out of high school – that they will drop out,” he said.
Trustee Robert Davee added, “I think we need to let the folks in Austin know what the people down here think.”
“The over reliance on standardized, high stakes testing as the only assessment of learning that really matters in the state and federal accountability systems is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage,” the resolution charges.
The resolution also points out that “the mandates for students to pass each of 15 STAAR EOC Examinations, achieve a cumulative score for each of the four core content areas tested, and score satisfactory or advanced on English III Reading, English III Writing and Algebra II to fulfill partial requirements to graduate on the Recommended or Distinguished plans, adversely impact students’ love of learning and ability to receive a comprehensive education beyond the core content areas tested.”
Also, trustees believe the mandate to achieve a cumulative score will adversely impact students’ ability to successfully complete high school and transition to college.