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article imageOp-Ed: Bill to bypass high school end-of-course exams hurts education

By Calvin Wolf     Mar 18, 2015 in Politics
Austin - To graduate from high school in Texas, you must pass standardized tests: Algebra I, English I and II, Biology, and U.S. History. With many students unlikely to pass them all, the state Senate has just passed a bill allowing exemptions. It's bad law.
This Saturday, I will head to the high school to teach two two-hour classes on U.S. History. Most of my students in attendance will be seniors who failed to pass the U.S. History STAAR exam last May, when they took it for the first time as U.S. History students, and last December, when they took a first re-test. If they do not pass their second re-test this May, they will not be eligible to graduate. In Texas, high school students must pass five standardized end-of-course (EOC) exams to receive a diploma: Algebra I, English I and English II, Biology, and U.S. History.
The Texas Tribune reports that 28,000 students in the class of 2015 have not yet passed at least one of these five STAAR tests, rendering them ineligible to graduate. State senator Kel Seliger, a Republican from Amarillo, recently proposed a bill allowing an exemption from the STAAR test requirements, giving seniors who failed their STAAR tests their diplomas if a board of teachers, counselors, and parents decided that the student deserved to graduate. The bill has just passed the Texas Senate, though it must pass through the House and be signed by the governor before becoming law. Seliger hopes to muscle the bill through to becoming a law by May, allowing the class of 2015 to take advantage of the exemption-granting boards.
This bill represents bad law. It renders impotent the testing laws the state strove to create and further weakens the authority of teachers. When a board that includes non-teachers can grant high school seniors who failed to meet the required standards the right to graduate, what message does that send to educators? It is a slap in the face to teachers who struggle to hold students accountable. As a teacher of seniors, the last thing I need when faced with teenage apathy and senioritis is the knowledge that a board can overrule any failing grade I give...especially when the students know it, too.
"All I have to do is go in there and look sad, and they will give me my diploma," apathetic seniors will reason. Parents and students will lay out sob stories, get the board decision they want, and be eligible for graduation. But, what then? Underprepared students are shuttled off to college, where they promptly flunk out and are left on the hook for expensive student loans. Instead of helping high school seniors, we are dooming them to more expenses later on. It is better for students to fail at the secondary level, where it is free, than fail at the post-secondary level, where they are paying for the privilege.
Bills like those that just passed the Texas Senate will only worsen our college loan default crisis. Giving underprepared teens increased ability to go to college only sets them up for struggle and debt. Or, perhaps worse still, colleges and universities will accommodate these underprepared freshmen by lowering their standards. Already, American college graduates rank almost last in terms of problem-solving and critical thinking skills among their peers from other industrialized nations. This bill only encourages grade inflation at both the secondary and post-secondary levels.
Teachers will be encouraged to inflate grades to make it more likely that students who fail the STAAR tests will be viewed positively by the boards. Professors will be encouraged to inflate grades to make it more likely that students who failed the STAAR tests in high school will not drop out of college and make the school's statistics look bad. Ultimately, everyone suffers when employers grow fed up with American college graduates and decide to seek automation instead of hiring.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Texas, end of course exams, Standardized tests, Teacher, Education
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