Major education overhaul headed to state Senate

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on March 27, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 27 at 6:01 PM

AUSTIN -- It was a quiet morning in the Texas House following the passage of a sweeping education reform bill Tuesday evening.
 
"It was a great feeling. There's a lot to be done," the bill's author, House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killeen), told KVUE Wednesday.
 
Major changes include reducing the number of end of course exams from 15 to five, eliminating the requirement that exams count towards 15 percent of a student's final grade and replacing the current four-year plan with a set of "endorsement" paths aimed at either college readiness or vocational training. 
 
"I think this bill will help restore some of that relevance to their learning experience and hopefully pull them back into a more involved engagement with learning," Aycock explained.
 
"Representative Aycock understands that rigor in our public schools is not measured by how many standardized tests we outsource to a testing company, but rather by the number of students who reach their full educational potential," Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment President Dineen Majcher wrote in a statement Tuesday.
 
One of just two who voted against the bill, state Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) worries it will reduce academic rigor and that many high school freshman may be ill-prepared to choose a four-year plan. 
 
"That is just really early," Strama said Wednesday. "Some kids are late bloomers. Some kids are capable of more than they may believe they're capable of if we believe in them. And I just wish that we would presume they're capable of it and default them into the highest path possible, and let them opt out if they choose to with their family support." 
 
A number of amendments introduced by Strama were ultimately struck down Tuesday, although a compromise was reached over publication of the STAAR exam. While Strama argued the full exams should be made publicly available each year after testing concluded, lawmakers agreed instead agreed to release only the current year's test.
 
"I think we should release them every year after we've used them," said Strama. "I think that that is a way that parents can trust the test more, or if the test is bad, they can not trust the test with good reason, and we can review and renegotiate or rebid the contract with the testing company. But I think we need to know what the tests say. The tests get better with more eyeballs on them."
 
"We appreciate very much that legislators are listening to educators but especially to parents," said Association of Texas Professional Educators State President Deann Lee. "This most definitely is progress. It's a step forward. It helps to remedy some of the present situation."    
 
While praising lawmakers' efforts overall, Lee takes issue with another provision of the law assigning schools an "A" through "F" letter grade based upon performance. She cautions that any school that falls short of an "A" rating may be unfairly stigmatized as being sub-par.
 
"We have no problem with accountability," said Lee. "But there are so many wonderful things going on in classrooms every single day, and an 'A' through 'F' system concentrates more on negative competition."
 
State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) announced opposition to the letter grade system, promising in a press release sent Tuesday evening to pursue the issue as part of a series of individual bills to be heard before the House Public Education Committee.
 
Filed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick (R-Houston), the upper chamber's companion bill SB 3 was scheduled for discussion Wednesday. Lawmakers instead adjourned without debating the bill and are expected to take up discussion when the Senate convenes on Tuesday.

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