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Texas says ‘no’ to testing, seat time

The state that spurred the major expansion of standardized testing decades ago and became a model for No Child Left Behind is now saying “no” to copious amounts of testing, de-emphasizing seat time requirements, and placing a priority on online and vocational learning.

Starting in fall 2014, the roughly 1.4 million high school students in Texas will only have to complete five tests, down from 15. House Bill 5 was unanimously passed by both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, and is designed to give more flexibility to students who want to focus on career and technical training, not just college-prep courses.

Changes in testing happened in large part amid a backlash from students, parents, and teachers about too much testing, as well as low passing rates for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam (STAAR).

(Next page: Backlash and online learning)

Students first began taking the exam known as STAAR last school year, and the high rate of failure helped fuel the backlash against perceived over-testing that dominated the legislative session, fueling widespread support for the curriculum overhaul.

“While we would have hoped to see an across-the-board increase in performance, the difficulty of the tests, coupled with the uncertainty of the testing program’s future, likely impacted performance this year,” said Education Commissioner Michael Williams in a statement.

The new law means standardized testing in geometry, chemistry, and world geography and world history will no longer be required.

There was speculation Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) would veto the bill amid criticism from some groups, including the influential Texas Association of Business, that it weakened curriculum standards and would leave high school graduates ill-prepared for the demanding jobs of the future.

“We set the bar high in our state,” Perry said. “And our students are consistently rising to that challenge.”

The changes create a base or “foundation” high school diploma that only requires graduates to pass tests in Algebra I, Biology, U.S. History, and English I and II. Tests in English reading and writing, which had been given separately, will be combined.

It also loosens rules that had required four years each of math, English, science, and social studies, so students will have more time for vocational training.

Williams had said he hoped the Legislature wouldn’t reduce the number of standardized tests too much, but nonetheless cheered the measure. He said Texas “wants to be the national leader” in career training.

The law was also applauded by educational groups, including the Texas State Teachers Association, whose president, Rita Haecker said, “We know a real education is more than learning how to take a test.”

“This new law will give teachers more time to do what they do best—teach—and will give their students more time to learn,” Haecker said in a statement.

“…by enacting Senate Bill 1365, the state is allowing greater flexibility on student advancement based on skill and proficiency level instead of ‘seat time,”” said Digital Learning Now! in a statement. “By allowing students to earn credit for courses after achieving high scores on state-approved exams…the state has placed a strong emphasis on content mastery rather than how long a student is sitting in a classroom. This is a huge step forward in ensuring Texas students earn credit for true mastery of a subject and are able to move on quickly to the next level in their academic pursuits.”

To learn more about these bills, check out Digital Learning Now’s summaries and analysis of:


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