The state’s most prominent business group – which thinks excessive testing is more important to academic success than adequate school funding – is hyperventilating again. This time, it is because the Texas Legislature and some school districts gave a few thousand high school seniors the opportunity to graduate without passing all their end-of-course exams.
The students passed at least three of the five EOC exams, successfully completed all their required coursework and were deemed deserving of their diplomas by their teachers and principals. But in the eyes of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the sky is once again falling on public education in Texas.
In truth, one of the biggest obstacles to public education in Texas is the Texas Association of Business and similar special interest groups that keeping wringing their hands over test scores while doing nothing to convince the legislative majority to adequately fund public schools.
In 2011, TAB did little, if anything, to discourage the legislative majority from slashing $5.4 billion from school budgets and was mostly silent while thousands of school employees lost their jobs and thousands of students were shoved into overcrowded classrooms.
During last spring’s session, even though many school districts haven’t recovered from the 2011 cuts, TAB successfully lobbied for a multi-billion-dollar cut in future business taxes – an important source of education funding – while lawmakers left several billion additional tax dollars unspent in the bank. TAB also supported the new A-F grading system for school campuses, which will do little more than stigmatize low-income students who suffer the most from inadequate school funding.
But whenever students in under-funded classrooms turn in lackluster STAAR scores, you can count on the folks at TAB to wail, professing more concern about the accountability of third-graders than they do about the accountability of legislators.
And, now they are wailing over the initial results of a new law to let some high school seniors graduate if they fail one or two of the five required end-of-course tests, provided that is the only obstacle to their graduation. That have to complete all their other required coursework and be approved by a special graduation committee that includes the student’s principal, the teacher of the course for which the student failed the EOC exam, a curriculum department chair and a parent or guardian.
The law, which went into effect last spring and will expire after the 2016-17 school year, if the Legislature doesn’t renew it, is a good idea. Since last spring’s graduating class was the first required to pass the EOC tests, Gov. Greg Abbott said it was important to protect students from being penalized by “evolving test standards.”
In reality, the Legislature needs to do even more to reduce the state’s punitive regime of over-testing. But the Texas Association of Business wasn’t pleased with the new, limited law and attempted to survey the largest 100 school districts to see how many graduates got a waiver from passing all the EOC tests. Seventy-eight districts responded, and 71 percent of the 5,578 students who sought the waiver received permission to graduate. TAB President Bill Hammond called that a “shockingly high number.”
Hammond predicted that more students will figure out how to “game the system” and graduate unprepared for college or the work force.
But if Hammond and other business leaders really care about the qualifications of high school graduates, they wouldn’t be as alarmed about kids potentially “gaming” the testing system as they are about the legislative majority under-nourishing the entire educational system with inadequate funding. That’s the bottom line.