The Texas House of Representatives took up debate on a bill Tuesday that would enact major changes to graduation requirements, student assessments and school accountability laws.
House Bill 5 was filed in February by new House Public Education Committee Chairman Representative Jimmie Don Aycock as a jumping off point for discussions.
On the phone today, Tyler Representative Matt Schaefer said he'll be voting for House Bill 5 because of the flexibility it would give parents and students.
"It allows students to tailor their own plan. The whole economy is focused on customization, but we're still stuck in standardization for our students," Schaefer said.
House Bill 5 would change a high school student's core course options. Currently, students on the statewide recommended or distinguished achievement graduation plans must complete credits in four English Language Arts, four math, four science and four social studies classes, in addition to foreign language, fine arts, and P.E. courses.
If House Bill 5 passes, they would be required to take four English Language Arts, three math, three social studies and three science classes in addition to two foreign language, one fine arts, and one P.E. credits.
Students would have the opportunity to finish their degree by earning what the legislature calls "endorsements" in areas like science and technology, business and industry, arts and humanities, public services and multi-disciplinary studies.
"I don't think that this takes any rigor away from coursework. In fact, I think it's going to improve learning in our schools," said Schaefer. "When you expand options for students and give them more flexibility to follow their known interests, I think kids are going to want to learn more."
If House Bill 5 passes, standardized testing would also change for high school students. They'd only be required to take five end of course exams, in English Language Arts II (reading and writing), Algebra 1, biology and U.S. History. The requirement that end-of-course assessments determine 15 percent of a student's course grade would also be eliminated.
Sylvan Learning Center Director Bill Martin says that while it'd be good to see his students get away from the pressure standardized testing gives them, he doesn't think House Bill 5 will solve the state's larger problem.
"Until they eliminate funding to the school districts and job status and or security and or bonuses to both teachers and administrators, they're going to teach to the test," said Martin.
And Martin believes that will mean the legislature will be trying to fix Texas education requirements again a few years from now.
"I think it's probably good intentions. I'm sure the people who wrote the bill and the people who are going to vote for the bill think that they're doing a good thing," Martin said. "but we're going to have to fix this down the road in a few years with another law or another bill, and it's going to continue on."
Representative Schaefer attached an amendment to the bill that would allow school districts to hire career and technology teachers, regardless of their state teaching certification.
"Right now, there's a lot of red tape; it's expensive and it's a lengthy process for our schools to hire career and technology teachers that don't have the traditional certification," said Schaefer. "My bill cuts the red tape so that school districts bring in ... experts for career and technology courses."
House Bill 5 would also change the state's school accountability rating system, moving from ratings like "exemplary" and "recognized" to a letter-labeling system of A, B, C, and F. Districts would be evaluated on academic performance, financial performance, and community and student engagement.
One local school district told us on the phone Tuesday they believe passing House Bill 5 will allow them more opportunities to teach without worrying about a test and it will free their students of stress.
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